WisBusiness: Closing Lake Lawn a blow to Delavan area

By Jim Cryns

For WisBusiness.com

Lake Lawn Resort on Lake Delavan, a fixture in the state since 1878, is on target to shut its doors in December. The 258-acre resort is the community’s third-largest employer.

Approximately 300 jobs will be lost as a result of the closing, adding a lot of stress to the already troubled Delavan area. The last reservations accepted by the resort will be for the last week in November, according to a front desk employee.

According to Walworth County Treasurer’s Office documents, the owners of Lake Lawn owe more than $1.3 million in property taxes for 2008 and 2009.

AnchorBank of Madison owns a $34.4 million dollar judgment against the investor group, who purchased the resort in 2004. In the event AnchorBank is unable to sell the resort as a continuing business prior to the confirmation hearing in early December, it is not AnchorBank’s intent to keep the resort open.

“That is not our core business as a bank,” said AnchorBank communications manager Emily Campbell. Instead, AnchorBank will continue to work to market the property for a potential sale.

Jackie Busch is the director of the Delavan Chamber of Commerce and says rumors about the demise of the resort have been around for about a year. Busch says the resort’s value to Delavan and Walworth County cannot be overestimated.

Busch should know as she grew up in Delavan and her sister worked at the lodge through college.

“Personally I’m heartbroken,” Busch said. “The history of the resort is intertwined with everything Delavan is about. When you think about the lodge you think of the circus history, the airport run by the resort. It has the only banquet facility in Delavan.

“The owners put a lot of money into the place recently,” Busch said. “The rooms were renovated, they lightened the mood of the resort.” Busch says she has been receiving a lot of calls regarding the closing, many from former guests dating back to the big band era.

Busch says the closing of the resort has many factors involved, what she referred to as a “perfect storm.”

She said she hoped local government could come to the aid of the resort to aid the economy.

“I hope city officials are discussing something,” Busch said. “I’m an optimist and i’m hoping there still may be something they can do, our mayor and alderman might pull something together.”

The resort is sitting on some prime real estate, on the shores of Delavan Lake. “It’s my hope someone comes in and picks up the property,” Busch says. “I fear it may be purchased by a developer who would raze the structure and sell the lots for mansions.”

Busch says the property has a great deal of potential. “In good times it was the highlight of the area. I hope someone says ‘hey, let’s keep this gem.’”

AnchorBank’s Campbell says the next step in the foreclosure process is the confirmation of the sheriff’s sale bid, which AnchorBank expects will be heard by the court in early December.

AnchorBank has hired international real estate agent CB Richard Ellis to help the bank decide how best to sell the property.

“Pursuant to a court order, AnchorBank is working with CBRE, a nationally recognized real estate brokerage firm, to market the resort,” Campbell explained.