Local leaders provide tourism outlook


FIREWORKS ERUPT OVER Dartford Bay last year. As of right now, the Fourth of July celebration in Green Lake is still scheduled. Joe Schultz photo

by Joe Schulz

The coronavirus pandemic has forced event planners and community leaders across Green Lake County to tear up their initial plans for this summer.

But they may face an uphill battle as they work to create new plans because on top of the pandemic, the county already is coming off a disappointing year for tourism.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, in 2019 Green Lake County saw a decrease in tourism-related tax revenue, visitor spending, employment, total business sales and labor income.

Compared to 2018, visitor spending fell by roughly by 15%, business sales by 9%, employment fell by 6%, labor income fell by 18% and state and local tax income fell by nearly 13%.

“Some of this could be tied to the Heidel House closing in May of last year,” said Lindsey Kemnitz, community development director for the city of Berlin. “However, with the pandemic, most areas are already assuming their tourism will [continue to] decrease.”

Still, event planners remain cautiously optimistic that the season can restore a sense of normalcy.

Green Lake

Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Beck believes the pandemic may force people to “think local” when planning summer getaways.

“People are not going to jump on an airplane to Florida or jump on an airplane to go across countries,” Beck said. “They’re going to stay local and they’re going to spend their money within a two- to four-hour driving range.”

She noted the area offers a plethora of outdoor activities, such as biking, kayaking, hiking, boating and other water sports, enabling people to remain socially distant while enjoying nature.

Beck hopes those “natural assets” make Green Lake the ideal destination for Wisconsinites looking for summer adventure.

When the time is right, she noted the county plans to welcome second-home owners — who are currently in other states — back this summer with open arms.

THE UW-MADISON Marching Band plays at one of Green Lake’s Concerts in the Park. The Wednesday concert series is scheduled to start July 8, nearly a month later than normal. The marching band is not on this year’s schedule. submitted photo

“The mayor [Ray Radis] and I just talked about that. When we can, we will be sending a letter saying ‘we’re open for business and we encourage people to come back,’” Beck said.

For large summer events, she noted safety precautions will need to be implemented based on state recommendations.

“It will be different; people are going to be more cautious with their families,” Beck said. “I think we have to continue moving forward and rethink our festivals so we can do them smarter and safer.”

The chamber still is planning to hold concerts in the park, but has moved the start date to early July. It’s also still planning to hold its annual 4th of July celebration.

“I think people are itching to get out and start acting normal,” Beck said. “It will be different though, there may be some things we have to do for these events that we typically wouldn’t have done in previous years.”

Town Square

The Town Square Community Center has taken a financial hit as it’s had to largely close its doors due to the pandemic.

Currently the organization is working to figure out how to offer its programs, while ensuring there’s social distance.

The community center had scheduled a Party on the Pond event for Friday, July 3 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Mill Pond Terrace’s grand opening.

Hill noted last year’s event had roughly 600 attendees and she doesn’t know if it will be possible to host an event with that many people by July.

“Right now we’re keeping our events on our calendar, and as the time draws closer, we’re going to start cooking up a plan B,” she said.

Town Square will open it’s summer farmers market Friday, May 29 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The community center is working closely with the Green Lake County Health Department to follow guidelines provided by the state Department of Health Services.

It also is working with vendors to determine the appropriate layout for the booths to follow physical distancing protocols.

“Some adjustments will need to be made, at least for the initial part of the season,” Hill said. “The vendors are very excited to have the chance to get out there as many other markets have been cancelled.”

She added that no matter what, Town Square is committed to finding ways to ensure folks have a fun and safe summer.

Thrasher Opera House

The pandemic has caused a slew of events to be postponed at the Thrasher Opera House. So far, the venue’s strategy has been to reschedule rather than cancel, according to Executive Director Rachael Avery.

Right now, the Thrasher’s next scheduled show is The Second City comedy group on Saturday, July 18, but Avery is cautiously monitoring state restrictions on gatherings.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on the Badger Bounce Back Plan, and phase two allows gatherings of 50 people,” she said. “We’re 200, so we would have to wait until phase three in order to operate as usual.”

In the meantime, the Thrasher is working to establish cleaning routines and investing in sanitizing stations to ensure they are ready to reopen when the time comes.

Avery says the Thrasher is doing everything it can to keep its patrons engaged by providing music digitally.

Each week, the venue sends out “Feel Good Friday” email blasts to its subscribers, featuring feel good music stories, live digital performances from artists who have previously performed at the Thrasher.

With so much uncertainty, Avery was hesitant to speculate about what this summer could look like.

However, “when a sense of normalcy returns, the Thrasher is definitely going to be there, ready for everybody to come out and see a concert,” Avery said.

Princeton

In Princeton, numerous events slated for this summer have already been canceled, including Unity’s 11th Annual Spring Arts and Craft Fair, the annual Rubber Chicken Fling, the Spring Wine Walk and the Whooping Crane Festival.

Princeton’s famous flea market has been tentatively postponed to June 6, but could change depending on state regulations, according to Princeton Chamber of Commerce President Tabitha Pierce.

“Obviously, we know that when we are able to open the flea market that there will be rules and regulations set forth by the governor, just as if you go to Walmart or Costco today, where you have to practice social distancing,” Pierce said.

She expects tourism to take a dip this summer as the community navigates the new normal created by the pandemic.

“As a country and a community, we’re never going to be normal again, but we are all itching to see what the new norm is going to be,” Pierce said.

Princeton’s businesses have taken a hit, and have been forced to adapt to doing business in a new way, offering things like online menus, delivery and curbside pickup.

“Those who are open to doing business a new way will survive during this and those who are not open to doing business a new way probably will not,” Pierce said. “And it’s unfortunate that they’ve been put in that situation.”

Berlin

In Berlin, Kemnitz noted organizations are watching for updates and will make decisions as soon as statewide restrictions change.

The volunteer-based non-profit Achieving Better Communities has announced the cancelation of its 4th of July event. But the city is debating whether or not to keep the fireworks display cancelled.

Kemnitz noted the cancelation of EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh will negatively impact the city’s lodging, restaurants and retail businesses.

Everything that happens this summer will be dependent on guidance from local and state health departments. She added the chamber is anticipating that social distancing will be in effect to some extent throughout the summer.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will most likely continue to impact our country through the summer,” Kemitz said. “As we all continue to settle into this new normal, different activities, such as traveling, might be a part of people’s summer plans, and we are hopeful that everyone partakes in their plans safely.”

Vice President of the Berlin Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Marie Weiske is trying to stay optimistic. The thing that’s impressed her the most so far, is the way local communities are rallying together through socially-distanced activities.

“While nothing seems favorable with the way COVID-19 has impacted our areas, one of the most impressive and inspiring results of this pandemic is seeing our local organizations and businesses rally to keep everyone’s spirits up and, likewise, seeing our community members provide support to these local businesses when they need it most,” Weiske said.

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