OCONOMOWOC — Just short of two weeks before the Jan. 31 deadline, the Oconomowoc and Lake Country communities have successfully raised $1.35 million to purchase the 517 N. Lake Road parcel to prevent it from being developed into a condominium.
The parcel, which was owned by Renner Architects, had been slated for development of a condo for the last few years, but after public outcry from residents that the condo would take away from the feel of the Historic Isthmus District, a deal was struck over the summer.
That deal involved a generous donation from the Chuck and Pat Herro family to buy the neighboring parcel, 525 N. Lake Road, and a challenge for the community to raise $1.35 million in just six months’ time.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a park on two Oconomowoc lakefronts located in the heart of our city,” a press release states.
Chris Both, who led the effort with her husband Frank, said during a stressful and disappointing year, the project has been a bright spot.
“It was very exciting,” Chris said. “We looked forward to moving the line on the progress graphic every week. There were times when Frank was doing that when people would honk and wave at him. It was the best part of the week.”
Chris said the donations came from all over, including other counties and states.
“We had some people that used to live in Oconomowoc or have parents that live in Oconomowoc and they have such a connection to the city that even after they left they wanted to contribute something to their community,” she said.
The name of the park, as chosen by the Chuck and Pat Herro family, will be the John and Lavinia Rockwell Park.
“The Rockwells lived on this property and they were instrumental in starting this community,” Hazel Patricia Herro said. “I graduated from Oconomowoc High School in 1945 and 100 years before that Lavinia was documenting her life in this community. They were givers then and the people of Oconomowoc gave their donations today so now we will all enjoy this beautiful property in their name.”
Mayor Bob Magnus said the goal being reached is “an amazing community accomplishment.”
“As mayor, one of my core objectives is to maintain and enhance the small-town charm of our city while also promoting economic growth and development,” Magnus said. “The new John & Lavinia Rockwell Park accomplishes both of these goals.
“As the jewel of Lake Country, this park enhances the Oconomowoc city experience for all, and promotes business activity.”
But the money didn’t come from just a few donors, it was a community effort — made possible by the people living in the area.
According to a press release from Chris Both of the Build a Park at 517 project, the goal was achieved earlier this month thanks to 900 separate donations.
Three of those donations came from three people who will benefit from another park in the city — four-yearolds Nolan Dowd and Clara Dowd and six-year-old Alan Dowd. The three Dowd children each reached far into their piggy banks to donate $5.17 to the cause.
John and Greta Dowd said the family was very excited to be a part of the project.
“My wife and I and all of our children were born in Oconomowoc and have always felt it is a special community,” John said. “We feel our children have gained a true appreciation of their hometown at their young ages. One of the forms of entertainment during this pandemic has ben taking ‘scenic’ drives around Oconomowoc and they love to see the various landmarks around the city.
“This park will be another great addition to our community.”
The park and its future
John and Lavinia Rockwell Park is located on Fowler Lake and abuts the dam that leads into Lac La Belle. The park will offer beautiful views of the cherished lakes, but also be a spot to fish, portage between the lakes, and be a place to stop along the Fowler Lake walk.
As the park was made possible by the community, community suggestions are being requested for the final park design.
Comments may be made at buildapark517.com or at a virtual meeting in the City Council Chambers on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m.
Moving forward, a design team will be evaluating all the suggestions being made in collaboration with the Oconomowoc Parks and Recreation department and other city staff.
Work on the park will begin this spring.
Fundraising will continue for developing the park, the press release states. Funds received in excess of the purchase price will be used to help build the park.
In addition, a nonprofit organization called Friends of Oconomowoc Parks and Trails Inc. is being created to support the project and other park and trail projects.
The organization plans on taking donations in 2021 and more information about the nonprofit will be available soon.