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A real high point: Black Point mansion has summer of success

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Kayla Bunge
October 27, 2007
— The last few months have been beyond Tara Blazer’s wildest expectations.

Since opening to the public June 15, Black Point mansion has seen more than 8,000 visitors approach its pier, walk through its doors and experience its living history.


“The first season (of museum tours) was fantastic,” said Blazer, executive director of the Black Point Historic Preserve.


Limits placed on the museum by the county after neighbors fought to stop the mansion from becoming a public attraction didn’t hinder its success.


“From the day we started, it’s been popular,” said Harold Friestad, vice president and general manager of Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which transports visitors by boat to the mansion.


Friestad said the cruise line has been “selling it out” two tours a day, seven days a week.


A $1.8 million state endowment generates about $75,000 in interest annually, leaving the museum to raise $100,000 to stay open. Blazer estimated tours would generate about $60,000, and fundraising would have to fill the $40,000 gap.


But a much better-than-expected tour season meant the museum only had to raise about $20,000, something Blazer said took “a little bit of creativity” given the limitations on the number of visitors, hours and even the food served in the mansion.


“We want to honor not only the letter of the law but the spirit of it,” Blazer said. “We want to be good neighbors.”


The museum this summer hosted a $150-per-person event for about 200 people.


Due in large part to the fact that visitors come to Black Point by boat, the neighborhood has been left virtually undisturbed, Friestad said.


“They don’t even know people are there,” he said.


Blazer said she hasn’t heard anything from neighbors.


“There has not been one complaint, not been one person to either call me or come over with complaints of any kind,” she said.


Stephen Sills, a neighbor who led the legal campaign to block the museum, said the mansion being open to the public “hasn’t really affected us.”


“Our objection probably caused a lot of restrictions to be placed on the museum,” he said.


Blazer said the limitations weren’t what gave the museum a headache as it opened for tours.


“The only difficulty we had was the result of our great success,” she said.


The museum didn’t have enough trained tour guides to meet the demand at the start, but now there are six people who give tours all season long. An additional three staff the museum gift shop.


Blazer said visitor responses on tour evaluation forms were overwhelmingly positive. They were particularly appreciative of the access they have throughout the house, she said.


“Not everything is roped off,” Blazer said. “They’re presented with life the way it really was.”


The museum hopes to build on this season’s success by offering a unique experience each time visitors come to Black Point. One idea Blazer is toying with is focusing on one decade in the history of the mansion, which was built in 1888 as a summer home by Chicago beer magnate Conrad Seipp.


The museum also plans to market tours to school groups and begin exploring options for restoring the Queen Anne-style mansion.


Sills, however, isn’t convinced of the museum’s popularity. For one, he thinks the $32-per-person tour ticket is expensive, especially for a family.


“I don’t see it as a popular attraction,” he said. “The state is wasting its money on this attraction.”


TOUR INFORMATION


Tours of the Black Point mansion leave from the Riviera Docks in downtown Lake Geneva at 11:10 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. every day through Wednesday and last about 3-1/2 hours. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors, $13 for children age 13 to 17 and $21 for children age 4 to 12. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-558-5911. Information is also available online at www.cruiselakegeneva.com.


Anyone interested in leading tours can contact Tara Blazer at (262) 248-1888 or leave a message at (815) 633-1329.



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