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Oconomowoc auto dealer improves look of Wisconsin Avenue building

O'Connor worked with city's facade program

Jan. 9, 2013

City of Oconomowoc - Director of Economic Development Bob Duffy had a big check for new business owner Jim O'Connor on Monday.

The check wasn't one of those giant commemorative ones that boast larger-than-life numbers and dollar signs, but it was big enough. The city awarded the owner of the new auto dealership on Wisconsin Avenue $5,000 for the improvements he's made to the building's facade. Perhaps you noticed them when you drove by - they're pretty big.

O'Connor has been in the auto sales business since the 1970s, establishing Lomira Auto in that community north of Oconomowoc in 1982. He later sold his majority interest in the company to two key employees in 2000 and soon after decided to start another venture closer to home.

The owners of the property at 740 E. Wisconsin Ave. approached O'Connor about a year ago to see whether he had interest in operating a dealership in the space that once housed Auto Connectionz. In summer O'Connor began a major renovation of the structure, resulting in the completely different look today.

Unique to O'Connor's story is that he doesn't own the property; he's leasing it. He said that with today's market, he thinks he will benefit with the investment he's made to the property without owning it. While he declined to disclose specific costs of the renovation, it's clear it's more than $10,000; $5,000 is the most the city will award for improving a building's facade.

Years ago, Duffy began the facade program, a pool of grants available to businesses for improving their building's exterior. Applicants can earn up to $5,000, but have to spend $10,000 or more to get there, Duffy explained. The money comes from Community Development Block Grant funding through Waukesha County that is distributed through two- to three-year cycles. When it's an off year, Duffy said he was able to use some taxpayer dollars for the program. He said the increased property values and overall aesthetic improvement from the facades is a justifiable reason to use the levied money.

Duffy said the city has assisted in funding improvements to 23 buildings in downtown Oconomowoc from 2008-12.

"The façade grant program has provided $72,950 since implemented. The availability of the façade program has realized $453,895 of private investment to assist in downtown revitalization efforts. The result has been, for every dollar of public grants funds provided, there has been $6 of private investment into downtown Oconomowoc," he said.

A couple other examples of façade improvements are the Risk and Insurance Services Consulting (RISC) building and Sherpers. O'Connor's building is the most recent example of the program Duffy said he wishes more people would take advantage of.

O'Connor said the hope is to have his business open by Jan. 18. When asked why establish the auto dealership in Oconomowoc and down the street from much larger competitors, he had lots of reasons.

A lifelong resident of the city, O'Connor said he wanted to do something to help improve the hometown he already regards as a beautiful community. And as far as competition, O'Connor said there are numerous things that set him apart from others, including the personal customer service he offers. He also said with the advent of the Internet, the car-buying culture has changed. His business directly caters to the online shopper who might not have time to comb through car lots.

Joining O'Conner at the Wisconsin location is Geoff Wold, who has been in car sales for 10 years, and O'Connor's daughter, Laura. Laura O'Connor's background is in social work, but said she was in a transitionary period in her career and decided to change gears.

"When he started the dealership, I wasn't even born yet. But I can remember as a girl going to work with him and getting to wash cars and follow him around. I think this will be a great opportunity, and I don't want to look back and say I wish I would've taken the time to work with him. I love watching him work with people and how personalized his philosophy is," she said.

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Weekend Happenings

Featured this week:  

Spring Seedling Sale & Greenhouse Open House: 10 a.m. May 23, NuGenesis Farm, N68 W33208 County Road K, Oconomowoc. A variety of organic veggie and herb seedlings to plant in your home or community garden this spring will be for sale. All plant sale profits will benefit the Giving Garden initiative.

Memorial Honor Celebration: 8 a.m. May 23, Wisconsin Harley-Davidson, 1280 Blue Ribbon Drive, Oconomowoc. Daylong event begins with reveille and breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by color guard and the national anthem. The event also includes military and veterans organizations, interactive displays and vehicles, food and beverages and entertainment. Evening showing of “Honor Flight: One Last Mission.” on a big, outdoor screen.

"Small Space Container Gardens" Seminar: 11 a.m. May 23, Ebert’s Greenhouse Village, W1795 Fox Road, Ixonia. Free educational seminar by gardening expert Melinda Myers. Melinda, who will also be available to answer gardening questions. Enter to win a $500 Ebert’s shopping spree with Melinda.

Tyke Hike: 10 a.m. May 23, Lapham Peak State Park, W329 N846, Delafield. Children and their families will hike with a guide and a representative of the Delafield Library will share books, songs and a craft to enhance the experience. Meet at the Lapham Peak Tower. State park sticker is required.

Updates to this calendar are made weekly Monday afternoon. 

 

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