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Business Association proving doubters wrong



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June 02, 2010 | 08:16 AM
Williams Bay — "There were a lot of people who said it would never happen in Williams Bay. They said 'there's not enough business in the community,' 'no one will join the group,' 'it'll fizzle.'"

Seven years later, Jim D'Alessandro said the Williams Bay Business Association has surpassed even its members' own expectations.

The co-founder and leader of the group admitted it took a couple years to get the organization up and running, but the number of businesses that work with the association have tripled since its conception in 2003.

"The idea for the association came in 1997 when the Village Board at that time was developing the Master Plan and during that process, we called for the business community to organize," D'Alessandro said recently. "I said then that I supported spending money on developing the plan, but we need to ensure everything in it is implemented. That is a main reason we organized the business association, to help implement business growth."

He said the most significant accomplishment is the promotion provided to the village and its businesses. The Williams Bay Business Association even will have a presence at the Milwaukee Germanfest this summer, by running a tent at the event.

The association also can be given credit for helping prevent development of the Yerkes Observatory land. But the organization also advocates for businesses trying to get into the Bay.

"An important function is how we help new businesses in the Bay with the process of getting established and navigating their way through the Village Board," D'Alessandro said. "We also do a good job of bringing business owners together to share ideas, experiences and get to know each other."

The association may also be attributed to some fun that occurs in the village for planning of the now annual events such as, Day in the Bay, Dog Day in the Bay, and Boo in the Bay.

Dog Day in the Bay will be held for the fourth year in a row Saturday, June 19, at Edgewater Park. Up to 75 dog owners have been known to dress their dogs up in costume and participate in a parade at Edgewater Park.

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Day in the Bay is a winter event that the Business Association decided to hold when the traditional Winterfest in Williams Bay no longer was held. It includes various activities, from a chili cook-off, library bake sale and much more.

Boo in the Bay, held around Halloween, includes a pumpkin decoration and racing contest.

"This allows us to advertise for our businesses through an event, draw people into the Bay from all over the county," D'Alessandro said.

He said the association also has advocated for other improvements to the village, including a safe bike path which as been in the Master Plan and they've been able to help get the ball rolling for parking and street improvements, signage around the Bay and for the business district, and improving walking paths and crosswalks.

"Half of what we listed as our platform and what we wanted to achieve seven years ago, we've achieved," he said. "One thing we're all excited about now is having Mercy (Walworth Medical Center) become a member. They'll create 100 new jobs in our area and more people will be taking advantage of our lodging, restaurants and shops. We're confident many people who will be working at Mercy will live in the Bay."

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But the association is not stopping its momentum. In fact, D'Alessandro said the largest project is still ahead — redeveloping downtown Williams Bay.

"Because of the economy, there was a slow down in the downtown," he said.

Based on original plans from Anthony Navilio, the association hopes to be able to be involved in development downtown that would include both commercial and residential space.

About three years ago, Navilio had plans for a condominium/hotel at the northeast corner of Geneva Street and Highway 67 and a 16,000-square-foot building with retail space on the first floor and eight loft condominiums on the second floor, southeast of Walworth Avenue and Geneva Street.

"We were pretty excited about that several years ago and it seemed like it was something we might be able to see in the future," D'Alessandro said. "We're hoping when the economy turns around, it'll happen. The Business Association definitely wants to be there and support the rehab of our downtown."

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