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Lake Lawn’s return has wider benefits for community of Delavan

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Catherine W. Idzerda
December 5, 2011
— It sounds like a marketing slogan: What’s good for Lake Lawn Resort is good for Delavan.

In this case, the slogan is true. The return of the ailing resort is good for employment numbers, good for the city and good for local businesses.


The resort, which sits on 278 wooded acres and two miles of beach frontage, has been a staple of the community’s economy since 1878. Visitors from Chicago who preferred a quieter location than Lake Geneva with a marina and plenty of family activities, routinely spent several weeks each summer at the resort.


The resort closed in December 2010. The former owners, hit hard by the recession and the debt load from an ambitious project to remodel the buildings and create a water park, lost the business.


Four months earlier, AnchorBank had purchased the property for $19.97 million in a foreclosure sale.


But a group of local investors came to the rescue. Lead by Jim Drescher, a retired Lake Geneva builder, the group bought the resort for $9.8 million and went to work immediately, hiring contractors to remodel buildings, spruce up the grounds and put former employees back to work.


In May, the golf course and marina opened.


In June, the Look Out bar opened.


And in July, the resort’s guest rooms were opened to visitors.


“We were almost completely booked every weekend,” said Tom Hyslop, director of sales and marketing for the resort.


Now, during the holiday season, the resort is featuring Lake Lawn-themed Christmas show, hosting several Christmas parties and has sponsored a “breakfast with Santa.”


The remodeled Frontier Restaurant is once more full.


More than 200 trees were planted during the fall, and many of them are now shining with Christmas lights.


When the snow finally arrives, guests will be able to cross country ski, snow shoe, ride snowmobiles and take part in bonfires under the winter sky, Hyslop said. .


Even without the snow, the resort continues to be almost completely booked every weekend, he said. Hyslop said.


“Overall, we were satisfied with the year we had,” Hyslop said.


Jackie Busch, executive director of the Delavan Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t be more pleased.


“Lake Lawn has a huge impact on our community,” Busch said. “In terms of employment, at full capacity they employ well over 300 people. They hire cleaning staff, boat staff, kitchen staff—and that’s just to name a few.”


The city is “less than a tankful of gas” from Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. Delavan Lake is known for its fishing. With those kinds of credentials, Delavan is perfectly positioned to reap the benefits from what is called “resort living.”


For small communities, “resort living” means more business at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and gift stores.


“It really is a premier destination,” Busch said.


Along with the employment and sales at local businesses, Lake Lawn generates a significant amount of revenue in room tax.


During good times, Lake Lawn generated about 80 percent of the city’s room-tax revenue.


Next year, the city has budgeted $110,000 in room tax revenue to go into general fund revenues, according to city administrator Denise Pieroni. An additional, much smaller portion of the room tax will go toward tourism-related projects.


If more room tax is generated, it will go into the city’s capital improvement fund, Pieroni said. City officials are budgeting conservatively, and that’s partly because they’re in the process of going from a system of borrowing for improvements—and then paying interest and fees—to a savings/cash-based plan. Any extra room tax will help.


If Lake Lawn continues to do well, everyone—from resort’s ground keeper to the owner of the local pizza parlor to folks who run the cheese and wine shop—will be just a little bit better off.


And that’s good for everybody.



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