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Black Point catches eye of tourism director


September 14, 2011 | 07:38 AM
LINN TOWNSHIP — Stephanie Klett was at Black Point estate two years ago, but she admits she didn't pick up much on the Black Point story.

Klett, a former Miss Wisconsin who then hosted "Discover Wisconsin" on PBS television, said she was more interested in getting video for the show than listening to history.

On Friday, Klett, now Wisconsin's tourism secretary, returned to Black Point, and this time, she took the tour and paid attention to the lakeside summer mansion's history.

Docent Ginny Hall led the tour which took the guests through the two floors of the 20-room summer home. The VIPs were then escorted to the third floor, where they were split into two groups and allowed up in the Black Point tower, which affords a magnificent view of Geneva Lake and its north shore.

The third floor and tower are still off limits to the regular tours.

Compared to its neighbors, Wisconsin has a very frugal tourism budget.

Klett said this year Illinois has $48 million budgeted for tourism and Michigan has budgeted $30 million.

Wisconsin started its annual tourism budget with $9 million, although the department did get a step-up of $5 million, she said.

Wisconsin tourism is seeking to use its limited pot of money smarter than its neighbors, working with travel publications

In the past, the state's biggest tourism draws, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Dells and Door County, received little assistance from the state.

"Because Lake Geneva has always done well, I think it's been taken for granted by the Department of Tourism," Klett said.

Not anymore. Klett said the Department of Tourism now wants to tout Wisconsin's star attractions to increase tourism and the flow of tourism dollars.

"We now have a governor who gets tourism," Klett said.

Klett said the tourism department also wants to partner with businesses to draw attention to Wisconsin destinations. For example, Lake Geneva Cruise Line's owner, Bill Gage, is currently transforming some of his property from repair and storage to family restaurant and entertainment space.

One of Gage's ideas is to create a replica U.S.S. Minnow from the 1960s television show Gilligan's Island.

The Department of Tourism might be able to help by getting one of the cast members from that show to be at the grand opening of Gage's restaurant, Klett said.

Klett also said that in October, the Wisconsin tourism department will bring in up to 25 professional travel writers to the area.

"They will experience everything in Lake Geneva area and then write about it," Klett said. Stories are expected to appear in national circulationt food and travel magazines, such as "Bon Apetit" and "Travel and Leisure," she said.

In addition, the Travel Wisconsin website will include a blog about the fall colors in the Geneva Lake area.

"We are working hard to increase tourism dollars," Klett said.

Joining Klett on a Lake Geneva Cruise Line excursion to the mansion were Dave Fantle, deputy tourism secretary; Dave Spiegelberg, the tourism department's regional tourism specialist; State Sen. Neal Kedzie, Walworth County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell, Grace Eckland, director of marketing and public relations for the Lake Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau; Brett Sundstrom, general manager of Grand Geneva Resort and Jessica Landgren of Celtic Inc., Brookfield, public relations firm for the Lake Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Greeting them at the front steps of Black Point, which surmounts a 90-foot bluff overlooking Geneva Lake, were Sarah Hill, executive director of Black Point Estate and Ginny Hall, Black Point docent.Also joining the group were George Hennerley, president of the Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; and Edward Boehm, president of the board of directors for the Black Point Estate.

Hill said between 7,000 and 9,000 visitors come to the mansion annually during the tour season, which runs from May to October. About 95 percent come by boat on the Lake Geneva Cruise Line.

The last boat run is Oct. 23.

The Black Point Mansion, completed in 1888, is one of the oldest mansions on Geneva Lake. More importantly, the Seipp family moved a lot of their old furniture into their summer home, some of it dating to pre-Civil War times. And the Seipps' descendants kept all of those furnishings in the house, making it a rare time capsule for historians.

The property passed into the ownership of the state of Wisconsin in 2006, when William Petersen, a Chicago attorney and descendant of Conrad Seipp, signed the property over to the state.

Public tours of the property began in June 2007.

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