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Group has concerns about Oconomowoc developments, calls special meeting

Meeting called to discuss city's future as a tourist destination

Nov. 28, 2012

City of Oconomowoc - Destination Oconomowoc. These two words are the focus of a meeting on Monday, said Laurel Whelan.

The 23-year veteranbusiness owner -who has been involved in several city committees, including the Downtown Oconomowoc Merchants Association (DOMA) - said the intent of the meeting is to answer questions and bring awareness to developments on the slate downtown. She said it's also to discuss how the city can become a destination in the region.

"This is not a negative campaign. The focus of the meeting is about making Oconomowoc a destination city," said Whelan.

In July, Mayor Jim Daley and the Common Council announced plans to swap land on North Main Street with a developer for city-owned parcels on Worthington Avenue, where the developer would build apartments. They also announced plans to work with Jeff Seymour and his development - formerly called Rockwell, now Fowler Lake Village - to move it behind City Hall. The city is planning parking on the former site on St. Paul and Pleasant streets. And in recent weeks the city has further discussed plans to revamp the Fowler Lake waterfront and Village Green with land it received on North Main.

The Destination Oconomowoc meeting announcement states there are "growing concerns that portions of the city's proposed waterfront development strategy could impede efforts to develop Oconomowoc as a competitive 'destination city.' "

Whelan declined to clarify specifically what is of concern, reiterating that the focus of the meeting is to discuss how to make the city a destination. She said the meeting will include a presentation from a guest speaker - whom she also declined to name - who, she said, has extensive knowledge of economic development and tourism.

"He's done a lot of homework and may take questions (after his presentation)," Whelan said.

A source for the Focus said the presenter is Al Bathrick. An Internet search listed him in a Business Journal article as a developer with Enterprises LLC.

News of the meeting has hit a nerve with the mayor, who said public comment has been invited at numerous public hearings and presentations.

"We've had multiple public hearings on this issue, and I think the public has weighed in with some voices of concern about the project, but also many in strong support.

"It sounds like someone who wasn't in agreement with that is now trying to have the discussion yet again," said Daley.

In explaining the timing of the meeting, Whelan said there are still many who don't understand the scope of the developments. She also said she has gone through all the channels of seeking information and submitting comment to city leaders over the last several months.

"I have submitted my questions to the mayor. I have talked to my alderman. I went to meetings. I needed more answers than what has been done in closed session," Whelan said.

Whelan emphasized that the meeting is not intended to be divisive. "This is an inclusive, open invitation for Oconomowoc to be a destination. I don't want any bashing or negative talk. I'm not at war with anybody," she said.

There has been some talk that the crux of the concerns is over the plans for Fowler Lake Village. The mixed-use, four-story development will house a restaurant, five live-work buildings and 38 residential units ranging in price and square footage. The project is estimated to add $16 million value to the city tax roll.

While the excitement of a new development was heard after the announcement, critics have since surfaced. Some say they don't trust the developer, Jeff Seymour, but have not indicated why.

Daley said he thinks there may be concerns over the potential success of the development. However, he was quick to add that the city laid out a strict memorandum of understanding that Seymour must adhere to before a shovel hits the ground.

Whelan said that one project is not the focus of the meeting.

Seymour said he is not "building a building, but a destination place for Oconomowoc."

"I'm very proud of what I'm presenting. I have interest from more than one restaurant, art entrepreneurs are interested, and I have interest from people for all units, from the penthouses to moderate and low-priced units," Seymour said.

The veteran developer has 15 years' experience working in downtown Waukesha and is behind the recent establishment of Waukesha as a Guitar Town city, which gained international attention in the London Times, Seymour said.

"I've also been committed to Oconomowoc for 10 years, and this gives ownership to people," Seymour said of the building, which will be owned only by occupants, no rentals. "It's the equivalent of having 50 to 80 people investing in the community daily. They will live, shop and eat downtown," he said.

Those interested in learning more about Destination Oconomowoc are invited to attend the meeting, which Whelan said may be the first of many. It begins at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at Whelans Coffee & Ice Cream Lounge, 165 E. Wisconsin Ave.

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