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One more column on parking structure

March 27, 2014

I know you’ve read enough about parking.
In fact, when reporter Chris Schultz copy edited my last column on parking he scribbled: “No mas”…aka No more!
As it turned out, that’s not what he meant. But that’s what I thought he meant because I know people are tired of the subject.

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A warm response to cold weather

March 27, 2014

What a winter it has been. That is a phrase heard many times in reference to many things, but it couldn’t be more proper when considering a warm clothing drive conducted even before the winter began.
When Ryan Mikrut, a former Lake Geneva resident living in Milwaukee, heard from a friend who is a teacher in Lake Geneva that in October, before things really got cold, children were coming to the school where she teaches without long sleeves, to say nothing of having warm coats or hand coverings for the cold weather to come. Mikrut pondered about such situations in light of what it would mean to any child. Familiar with such needs in her home city, it seemed very wrong for the situation to exist in Lake Geneva and she felt she must do something about it.


Recent Commentary
Locals, government should be on same page on parking
March 13, 2014

Part 3 of a series
So why should the citizens of Lake Geneva support a parking structure?
The need for more parking has been discussed for years.
In my last two columns, I’ve argued that a parking structure is needed to help solve the parking problem.
And because the most likely source of funding — TIF — sunsets in 2017, that decision should be made soon.
Last week, the city parking commission recommended that the parking structure be built behind the old theater.
That recommendation will go to the city council. I doubt there will be a unanimous vote, but I suspect a majority of the council will let the citizens decide by putting it to a referendum.
A referendum is required for any expenditure of more than $1.1 million and the parking structure is expected to cost close to $8 million
While a recent study predicted voters would support a parking structure, I have my doubts.
This is a conservative community and many citizens aren’t big fans of the visitors who invade Lake Geneva every summer.
Other people are against TIF on principle. I understand their concern. It’s too easy for TIF to become an easy piggy bank for pet projects. And while it may not be a tax in the traditional sense, it does collect money from taxpayers.
That said, citizens need to understand it’s now or probably never. The money is available and if anything fulfills TIF’s goal of improving downtown, a parking structure does.
And I doubt a greater purpose would be found if the money were redistributed to the taxing bodies — which would be the case if TIF closes.
More directly, citizens would find their own parking problems lessened.
There’d be less encroachment in residential areas by tourists.

There’d be more of an incentive to come downtown to shop.
Locals will also gain because a healthy downtown makes for a healthy economy.
Right now many locals feel disenfranchised. They’re the ones who vote. They’re the ones who pay taxes. Yet it seems to them that many of the decisions made by the city are only done to encourage the business community. To many citizens it seems like a one-way street.
To help change that image, the city should go out of its way to provide support for parking rules that directly benefit the citizens of Lake Geneva.

Here are a few suggestions:
1) Keep the residential sticker program that allows for two-hour free parking, maybe even extend it as few people use up the full two hours anyway. I understand that the city has about 5,700 residential stickers. It seems obvious that some people have found a way to get more stickers than they need or have moved since acquiring one: the city should restart the program and be even more vigilant about proof of residency.
2) Continue the program of free parking during the winter months, at least for citizens.
3) Establish rates in the parking structure that encourage downtown workers to park there instead of on the street. Not only will that keep spaces open for visitors, but it will help fill the parking structure during the winter.


A parking structure: Building for the future
March 06, 2014

Second in a series
See part one here.
The issue has been staring Lake Geneva in the face for decades.
Too much traffic. Not enough parking.

Perfect storm: Why itís time to build a parking structure
February 27, 2014

Part 1 of a series

It’s like a childhood crush.
You fall fast, but she’s not the one you’re meant to take to the altar.
The idea of tearing down homes on Wisconsin Street across from Central Denison School to make way for a parking structure seemed like a good idea at the time.
It stemmed from a conversation between the local school district and the city, who would have teamed up on the project. But when the idea was raised about a month ago, public reaction was swift and strong against it.
Tearing down four homes for a parking structure in a largely residential area just didn’t sit well — even with those who floated this trial balloon.
Luckily, the city and school snapped out of it before this fatal attraction got any deeper.
It’s the latest chapter in the city’s decades old saga of not enough parking but nowhere to go.
This is the first of a three-part series on the subject.
This week we’ll focus on the status quo. Next week: Why a parking structure makes sense. Lastly, we’ll explain to our taxpayers what’s in it for them.
The parking issue has been studied to death. Over coffee. On the floor of the city council. And in several studies that dealt with actual facts.
The problem is no mystery: The city of Lake Geneva doesn’t have enough parking to hold the multitude of visitors who come here every summer.
There are some who wish those visitors would just go away and leave our wonderful city for themselves. But, like it or not, the rest of the world has discovered Lake Geneva. That started about the time of the Chicago fire and if some citizens believe it’s going to stop any time soon, they’ve been smoking some of that Colorado weed.
So, by now, they should at least consider how we can make the best of it. For the rest of us, who recognize Lake Geneva’s economic life blood is tourism, there’s been too much hand-wringing for too many years.
A study held last summer pretty much summed up what other studies, and common sense, have long determined: The city needs more downtown parking for at least the summer.
Whether all this huff and puff is worthwhile for such a small portion of the year, is a subject for a later discussion.
So where do we stand now?
A critical mass has formed.
People as diverse as downtown leader Kevin Fleming and former mayor Speedo Condos believe a parking structure is needed.
We have a new head for the chamber of commerce who is bursting with new ideas and would love to see the parking issue resolved.
Mayor Jim Connors and alderwoman Sarah Hill have dedicated themselves toward some sort of resolution.
And, most important, the clock is ticking.
There’s a pot of money, about $8 million, sitting in a TIF fund. That’s about the amount needed for a high-quality parking structure. But the TIF fund sunsets in 2017.
A referendum must be held to approve any city expenditure of more than $1.1 million.
Since the money is already available in TIF, and wouldn’t require any further increase in taxes, this seems like a time when the voters are most likely to swallow that pill. Even that is about a 50-50 proposition. The odds of it passing without money already in the bank seem almost nil.
As a result, it’s pretty much do or die time for a parking structure.
City officials have been looking at possible sites the last few weeks.
That site across from Central Denison died under an avalanche of anger.
Also eliminated was a site one block east on Wisconsin Street.
It would have required the purchase of several buildings and a larger area is needed.
There was some discussion of putting the lot at the current location of the U.S. Bank. That has also been rejected. Just too much hassle and too many what ifs to navigate.
Some people have mentioned relocating the post office and putting a parking structure there, but no one in a position of authority sees that as a viable solution. Apparently, the P.O. was approached several years ago and there were just too many hurdles.
So we’re left with two possibilities: Behind the old theater or behind what was McCullough’s Drug Store.
They both have the advantage of being all or mostly owned by the city. They also are the site of existing surface lots. The disadvantage of such sites is that the surface spaces wouldn’t be available for parking during construction of the parking structure.
That’s where we stand.
The days of flirting with wanna-bes are over.
It’s time to settle down with something that will survive the trials of a tough marriage between the business community and our citizens, be as attractive as it is practical, and stand the test of time.

Next week: Why? Why? Why?


Creating an annual bucket list
February 20, 2014

I turned 27 earlier this month. Like most birthdays after 21, the day rolled in quietly and left without much fanfare.
I got a free coffee in celebration at Caribou Coffee in Lake Geneva, and a few friends and family members gave me some nice birthday cards.

Building a house of worship
February 20, 2014

The efforts of ordinary people cannot be underestimated. Examples of such effort are all around, whether all the details are evident or not. And such efforts deserve to be recognized.
An example of this kind of efforts was celebrated Jan. 12, with an open house marking the relocation of Immanuel Lutheran Church from 1229 Park Row in Lake Geneva to 700 N. Bloomfield Road, to a brand new church building, made possible by the efforts of ordinary people, the community they live in and the prayers of people in many places in the world.

Reporter hears readers at resident roundtable
February 13, 2014

I wasn’t hoping for much when I set up a meet-and-greet at the Walworth Public Library on Feb. 5.
Maybe the librarian would join me for coffee and we would talk about how people were too busy these days.
Instead, I was surprised by nine guests, all with opinions on Geneva Lake West and all readers of the Regional News. Mention of another paper did come up at one point, but it wasn’t very complimentary.
Not to brag, but no one had any serious complaints about how the west end of the lake is covered.
Big Foot High School’s return to referendum was a touchy subject for some, as most of the group no longer had children in school.
School budgets and tax levies are tough subjects to cover. These are important stories to write about because people in the district need to know, but concrete answers are hard to find.
In the most recent article about the referendum and school finances, Big Foot District Administrator Dorothy Kaufmann said the district faces so many unknowns in preparing a budget.
“I think they’ve done a good job teaching the kids,” Ann Catlow said. “But I don’t think they’ve done enough to reach out to nonparents in the district. I don’t think the newspaper has explained the impact to nonparents. We all have to pay the property taxes. I think most people will vote against it, honestly.”
Art Anderson said he is always curious about property tax rates.
“We have to keep paying them,” he said. “Even with state taxes going down, it seems like local taxes continue to increase.”
From Big Foot, the group’s discussion turned to the elementary school and the school board’s fight against planned Highway 14 changes.
Village Trustee Kent Johnson was at the informal meeting, and he said he doesn’t understand the school’s position.
“The fact that the highway will be moved closer to the school seems to be the school’s key issue,” Johnson said. “Well, it’s that close to the library here, and there isn’t a problem. Darien and Sharon schools both have highways very close. There aren’t these problems there that the (school) board says will happen here.”
Johnson said the state DOT has voted down a bypass of the village several times.
“The Antique Mall will be torn down regardless of which reroute of the highway (is made),” he said. “It’s supposed to move by December of this year.”
Trudy Schubert, local author and volunteer baker for the meeting, said she’d miss the store on the corner of Main and Beloit streets.
“The park, too, I love the park,” she said. “It’s small enough as it is without taking more away from it.”
Johnson said the Rotary Club’s Corn and Brat Festival may move from Heyer Park in Walworth to Fontana’s Reid Park.

“I heard last year’s was supposed to be the last here in Walworth,” he said. “I’m not sure if they’re moving or not.”
It’s clear that the park and the village square are integral parts of this community. The square holds a charm for residents who are attached to Walworth.
To improve the paper, Catlow suggested more event listings, before they happen.
“So often, I see a photo of something that has already happened,” she said. “Well, I would have gone, if I had known about it.”
Catlow said she would like to see a calendar in the Geneva Lake West section, something she can tear out of the paper when she gets it on Wednesday and stick on her fridge for the week.
I used to cringe when I heard about people tearing pieces from the newspapers I worked on. But it’s really a way to save a bit of the work I did.
Not everyone can save the whole newspaper like I do every week. At least one little clip gets weeklong fame.
There’s a calendar of events is this week’s issue for the west end of the lake. I hope it makes it to at least a couple refrigerator doors. Along with the calendar, the group asked me to reach out to more local civic group leaders for information. If you’re a leader of a group, like the 4-H or the Rotary or the American Legion, and you have a report to give, send it our way.
We’ll do our best to ensure information makes it to the readers. I don’t know if the Regional News will host similar events in the future, though I had a good time. Before the meeting officially started, I heard some gossip that I can’t share here. Everyone at the table had the same goal: to keep the community alive and active. I hope the Regional News keeps the community informed.
Special thanks to the Walworth Public Library for their gracious hosting of the event. We overwhelmed their small space.

Jade Bolack is a reporter for the Lake Geneva Regional News.


Columns, content and community
February 06, 2014

Here’s what I think a Community and Commentary section — the one you’re holding in your hand — should be and the direction it’s growing:
1. The Community and Commentary pages emphasize opinions and contributions by staff members and the public.
2. The label “community” implies content that provides a local flavor — which isn’t necessarily news or opinion.
3. The label “commentary” or anything with a column “logo” or marked as a “letter” indicates that the opinions expressed are the opinions of the author.
4. We don’t run editorials in the traditional sense. We won’t hide behind the editorial “we.” The editor’s opinions are the editor’s opinions and not necessarily those of others on the newspaper. The belief that any editorial is an expression of the newspaper is a myth. Newspapers are inanimate objects and can’t have opinions. The only way to make that claim is to take a vote and I’ve never been on a newspaper where people can agree on much of anything. The fact is that on most newspapers the “editorial” is actually developed by an elite group of people who answer to someone else who has the final say anyway.
5. I believe the prime job of a newspaper is to show both sides of an issue and let the reader decide. That doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions, but I’ll try to present them in such a way that the reader can see the other side as well. It was something I learned in debate — in order to make your point effectively you need to truly understand the other perspective. This deviation from the hyper aggressive editorials some people savor is a growing trend in newspapers. It’s also a reflection of the editor’s less-than hyper aggressive personality. On the other hand, the editor — that would be me — reserves the right to foam at the mouth should the occasion warrant it. Strong opinions nourish a newspaper and sometimes I’ve been remiss in not having more of them; I’ll try to do better.
6. We won’t run anonymous opinions or letters to the editor. You should have the courage of your convictions. Each letter needs to be signed and a city address included. We also need a phone number or email address in case we need to verify the letter or ask questions, but that information won’t appear in the paper. In general, we only run letters written by people with local connections.
7. Yes, we run some opinions that may be deemed as crazy. It’s been my experience that crazy ideas die faster when they’re shown in the light of day. If the expression of those ideas is resisted, then the teller of those tales enjoys martyrdom. And, there’s always a chance, they may be right. After all, the idea that the world was an orb circling around the sun was once considered insane.
8. We don’t have special rules regarding word limits or numbers of times someone can contribute. The editor reserves the right to make such decisions on a case-by-case basis. Some of our contributions run overly long and it’s my hope to edit them more this year.
9. We’ll try not to run libelous statements in letters or, we hope, anywhere else. You may think it’s the truth, but we need facts to back it up. And, in a lawsuit, the paper is as financially responsible as you are. We don’t have time to verify every opinion you may have. We make such choices based on their news value and the practicality of verification.
9. There is more leeway with commentary on public officials or public figures. For the most part, they’re not subject to traditional libel laws and criticisms come with the territory. Like everything else in the paper, we reserve the right to edit out particularly venomous or tasteless comments.
10. We resist writing editor’s notes on letters to the editor. The writer should get the final say in their letter. Again, we reserve that right but don’t plan to use it. We also reserve the right to disagree with the writer but in a separate forum. Excluding changes for style, grammar, spelling or obvious “mistakes’ we won’t change the content of a letter without contacting the author.
11. We encourage criticisms of the newspaper. They make for good reading.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.


When you can only agree to disagree
January 30, 2014

We get our share of angry phone calls.
Every newspaper does. It comes with the territory.

The day racism KO'd a champ
January 23, 2014

Monday was a quiet day in Lake Geneva.
The mail wasn’t delivered and government offices were closed.
For most of us, those were the most tangible signs that it was Martin Luther King Day.
With the exception of Lake Ivanhoe, 10 minutes to our east, there isn’t much to tie the Lake Geneva area to African-American history.
Sadly, though, Lake Geneva is responsible for two historical footnotes that paint a less than positive picture of our mostly white community.
One of course, is Lake Ivanhoe, a community created, in part, according to the Racine Journal Times, as a recreational area for blacks in an era when Lake Geneva was less than welcoming.
The other claim to historical notoriety, is the story about how famed African-American boxer Joe Louis was turned away from the city.
That story dates back to the summer of 1937.
On April 29 of that year the Lake Geneva Regional News proudly announced that “Joe Louis Will Begin Training Here On May 1.”
The subhead read: “Camp Site Selection Given Final Confirmation.”
The story went on to say that Louis’ manager was coming to town that very day to finalize plans.
Inside there was a photo captioned: “Brown Bomber Coming Here.”
The training headquarters for what would be Louis’ first championship fight were to be established at the city softball field. An arena and showers were to be built.
The expectation was that there would be thousands of spectators and that concession sales would help defray costs.

“Every detail connected with the undertaking of such a stupendous proposition as bringing the training camp to Lake Geneva has been thoroughly gone into … and overwhelmingly endorsed,” the story said, without attributing such glowing optimism to anyone in particular.
“Practically every avenue of possible complication has been discussed,” the story said.
Apparently, “practically” was the operative word.
In the next edition of the paper, dated May 6, a headline read: “Louis Camp Plans Still Unconfirmed.”
That story seemed to blame the confusion on Louis. “…whether or not the agreement with Lake Geneva is to be honored, is still in doubt,” the story said.
One week later, on May 13, the paper reported briefly on a recent chamber of commerce meeting. “Following the regular business meeting, the details concerning why the Joe Louis camp was not established in Lake Geneva were discussed.”
But, those “details” weren’t revealed in that issue. Or the next. Or any other issue we could find.
The only other mention in the Regional News was in an inside page of that May 13 issue stating that the camp would be in Kenosha instead of Lake Geneva.
But, according to a historical feature in the Kenosha News from 2012, written by reporter Diane Giles, the issues were apparently too uncomfortable for the local paper to cover.
“The mayor of Lake Geneva and officials with the chamber of commerce wanted Louis to train in their city,” Giles wrote. “The merchants had voted 109-5 to invite Louis there. They began soliciting funds with a goal of $5,000 to offer Louis in exchange for establishing a training camp there.”
But not everyone was happy.
“A homeowners’ group, the Lake Geneva Protective Association, sent a letter to a Chicago newspaper stating that Lake Geneva was an exclusive resort, not open to the public,” Giles wrote.
She explained that it was “during a time when most of western Kenosha County had locked out African Americans from property ownership through covenants with homeowner groups.”
“The association threatened to refuse to patronize merchants who contributed to the fund,” Giles wrote. “That got the merchants running scared, and they dropped their campaign to bring Louis there.”
A story in a Pittsburgh paper expanded on the issue.
Calling Louis “the colored challenger,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that the local challenge to Louis came from George Hotten, secretary of the Lake Geneva Home Owners’ Protective Association.
“Merchants were informed members of the association would refuse to patronize them if they contributed to the fund,” the story said.
As a result, the camp for the man who would become one of the greatest boxing champions ever was not located in Lake Geneva.
Instead, it opened in Kenosha that May 11. More than 20,000 spectators paid 55 cents to $1.10 each to watch Louis train. Louis won that championship fight and held onto the crown for another 11 years, defending the title a record 25 times.
So, as we celebrate a holiday created to recognize Martin Luther King’s efforts toward racial harmony, we dare not forget a day that should live in infamy for our fair city.
The day when Lake Geneva put Joe Louis down for the count.


To frozen heroes and free jump starts
January 16, 2014

Here’s to all the heroes of the evening of Jan. 6 and 7.
And in particular, here’s to one hero of the early morning hours of Jan. 7 who got my car started. For free.
According to the Weather Underground website, (my favorite for local temperatures) the air was down to a right chilly minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
Holy cow.
With the windchill, it felt like minus 31.
Holy Cow!
I realize people have to work those freezing, night-time hours. Utility crews drove around the city keeping an eye on the essential connections of modern civilization.
Police officers were on patrol. Firefighters were prepared in case they were needed. (Lake Geneva firefighters weren’t needed Monday night or early Tuesday, but they were called out to a working fire in the town of Geneva on Sunday, when it was at least as cold.)
I’m sure tow truck operators throughout Walworth County put in yeoman’s work on that cold, blustery, slippery day, pulling cars out of ditches and recharging batteries.
But most of us don’t think of those knights of the road, until we need one.
Managing Editor Rob Ireland and I worked until 11 p.m. Monday. We left the office at the same time, got into our cars the same time. His car started.
Mine, well, I’ll give it another crank. I’ll give it another crank. I’ll try it again. Hey, this ain’t working.
I desperately looked to my left to see Rob’s car make a right turn at Dodge Street. I went back into the office.
Just after 11 p.m., I started calling local tow truck operators at the end of one of their coldest, busiest days so far this winter. Enthusiasm was lacking.
One just had its answering machine on. At another I got a human voice. A very, very weary human voice.
“Sorry to bother you,” I said. “My car won’t start. Can you help?”
“I don’t think so,” came the muffled, very, very tired reply.
At Larry’s Towing, I got a human voice. It will take 90 minutes, he said.
What choice, did I have?
Mind you, the stress of my car not starting was psychological, not physical. I was in a heated office with access to coffee and a snack machine. I was not freezing or starving.
My car was parked on a city street, not stuck in a ditch.
I also live just two blocks from work. I could have walked home if absolutely necessary.
But I didn’t want to walk home in this cold. And I didn’t want to leave my car parked on Broad Street, because it would have been arrested for vagrancy and towed away and I would have had to bail it out of car jail for a ridiculous amount of money.
I hunkered down with a cup of reheated coffee and bag of cookies from the snack machine
The hero arrived in a Larry’s tow truck. Ninety minutes my eye. It took him only 45 minutes.

His coat was heavy enough to qualify as body armor, his woolen cap was pulled down over his eyes, and he wore industrial-strength work shoes.
As he groped around the frozen edges of the hood of my car, trying to find the interior hood latch, I noticed he wasn’t wearing gloves.
Ho-Lee Cow!
I made a comment about him being a better man than I was, even as my fingers were freezing inside my Thinsulate-protected gloves.
“Oh, that’s OK,” he replied. “I’ve been in and out all day.”
I thought the car suffered from gas line freeze. The Larry’s guy took my car key and gave it a try.
“Your battery’s kinda old,” he said. He got a charger from his tow truck, hooked it up with ungloved hands to my kinda-old battery and got the engine to start.
My cup runneth over.
I invited him into the office to warm up with a reheated cup of coffee (it’s all I had. I’d eaten all the cookies.) I offered to pay him double for his troubles.
He said no thanks to all of it. He wouldn’t take a fee for his trouble. I got free service.
HO-LEE COW!!
Apparently, the Regional News had run some “negative news” about Larry’s in the past, the unnamed hero said. Maybe I could write something positive about Larry’s, he added.
I’m payin’ the bill right now, big guy.
And thanks again.

Chris Schultz is a reporter for the Lake Geneva Regional News.


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