By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

The Town of Delavan board voted last week to approve awarding a bid for the rehabilitation of the Community Park building into what has been rebranded as “Water’s Edge”.

The new facility will be able to host upwards of 60 weddings a year along with other events that will make the facility the town’s second-leading revenue generator behind the boat launch.

The Aug. 18 decision was delayed for a month when the board tabled the issue at its July meeting over concerns about the increase in costs of the project over what was budgeted. Originally, the project was budgeted for $1.5 million; later that figure was increased to $1.75 million. In July, the estimate for the project came in at $2.4 million and the supervisors wanted to know why it increased and what could be cut from the project to get it back on budget.

While some items were cut to bring the cost down, other things were added, including dedicated restrooms for the inside of the facility and power outlets for outdoor food trucks in the park. Supporters of the project focused more on finding additional funds to pay for the project than on making cuts.

The main new source of funding discussed was an offer from the Friends of the Park. President of the group, Kevin Kiekhafer sent a letter detailing the offer to the town and he spoke about it at the meeting.

Kiekhafer said the Friends of the Park were concerned about the project not proceeding as originally designed, or seeing it delayed for years.

He said the project is over budget due to “gross errors in assumptions” made by the architects and engineers hired by the town during the preliminary estimation process. To help make up the difference between the early estimate and the current figures, Kiekhafer said the Friends of the Park are willing to offer the town 60 percent of the room tax dollars it receives each year for 10 years up to $600,000. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue allows a tourism entity to contribute to projects like this one, he explained.

The contribution would last through 2031 – or earlier if the pledge of $600,000 could be met sooner. Kiekhafer said it’s an annual offer and is open to negotiation, though the 60 percent amount is the maximum allowed by the Department of Revenue.

Kiekhafer said the decision to make the offer was not easy because it will force the group to aggressively seek sponsorships and other methods of funding to ensure continuation of the community events it sponsors. A requirement of the offer is that the town must extend its current contract with the Friends for the duration of the agreement. The Friends also require the town to commit 100 percent of funding contained in two CDs taken out by a previous board labeled as “Park Funds” be used specifically as matching grants for town park infrastructure and community events in any of the town’s five parks.

The town would not have to reimburse the Friends for the $600,000 but would have to cover the full costs of the project up front. The funding for the project is part of a $5.7 million bond the town authorized for the project and other projects like roadwork. To cover the $2.4 million cost of the project that was expected to cost $1.75 million, the town will have to reduce what it was planning to spend on other projects. If there isn’t enough of the $5.7 million bond left to cover those costs, the town will have to take out another loan.

Supervisor Katherine Gaulke said the new facitilty will not be a burden on taxpayers as the revenue it generates will help it pay for itself. The rental fee for weddings will by $8,000 for non-residents and $7,000 for residents on weekends from April through October. Administrator John Olson said after the meeting the town could bring in $100,000 of additional non-property tax revenue in 2021 once construction is complete.

Dave Sekeres, General Manager for Lake Lawn Resort, spoke in favor of the project moving forward. He said the company that owns Lake Lawn now also owns Delavan Lake Resort so was speaking on behalf of that resort and its condominium owners.

Sekeres said people who visit the area tend to spend $60 on their own and that figure rises to $200 if an overnight stay is involved. He said this project could benefit lodging, restaurants, gas stations and many other businesses in the community. He also said the wedding sector of event planning has remained strong despite COVID-19.

Becky Dryer, Event Coordinator for the Friends of the Park, said the new facility will offer potential brides more than other venues in the area such as a bride’s loft and plenty of outdoor space. She said nothing sells a venue like being on a lake.

In July the board discussed constructing a new building instead of rehabilitating the existing one. The cost of that was determined to be more than the rehabilitation plan, so Olson said the board is no longer considering that option.

Chairman Larry Malsch said he was not happy with how the cost of the project went up or that the Friends of the Park did not sharpen their pencils and make more cuts, but he also said the town needs to move forward with the project.

Lynnette Phillips said she was 100 percent in favor of the project but was concerned about robbing Peter to pay Paul in regards to the need to cut funding for other projects in an effort to stay under the $5.7 million that was borrowed.

Malsch made the motion to award the bid for the project. Phillips cast the lone vote in opposition.

 
 

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