OCONOMOWOC — "The Wizard of Oz" has inspired generations of people and now the city is seeking to honor the iconic film with an enhanced Oz Plaza. The display is located just west of City Hall and is a corridor for pedestrians connecting Wisconsin Avenue with the Fowler Lakefront.
"It’s a legacy to leave for citizens and visitors alike, a place for individuals and families to gather, enjoy and create lasting memories," Alderman Karen Spiegelberg said.
"I’m ‘over the rainbow’ excited to make this a reality. We like to say, ‘There’s no place like Oconomowoc’ and Oz Plaza will further add to that unique distinction."
The city’s plan was laid out at the May 16 Common Council meeting by Planner/Community Development Specialist Kristi Weber, who said that the upgrade of the plaza is contingent upon a fundraising effort.
"Now is the time to finish it and build off of what is already there," Weber said. "The goal is to create a safe path from the Fowler Lake parking lot to Wisconsin Avenue."
The proposed display is set to include a more expansive yellow brick road, moving and adding to the existing statues, a "selfie" spot stocked with flying monkey wings, overhead lighting and an ADA accessible ramp.
The current incarnation of the display was built in 2020 and Mayor Bob Magnus said he was pleased by what he witnessed when people stopped by to check it out.
"When COVID hit, I spent many hours at City Hall in my office right outside the figurines of the Wizard of Oz characters.
It was amazing how many people visited this plaza," Magnus said. "My favorite thing was to watch the kids and grandparents, their big smiles and enthusiasm as they explored the area."
Weber estimates that the project’s design and construction will cost $150,000 with most of that coming from the removal and replacement of the concrete. She said that the funding plan is still being worked out but will likely include partnerships and/or sponsorships. The space was named a City Park by the council in March 2023 and that may factor toward obtaining some of the needed funding.
If the funds come through, they expect to begin the construction in late 2023 or early 2024. A hoped-for completion date would be around August 2024 to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the first showing of the movie.
"We now have the opportunity to enhance these experiences and celebrate our history in ‘ The Wizard of Oz’ story," Magnus said.
"I would like to thank Alderwoman Spiegelberg and Kristi Weber for leading the charge to make this new vision a reality."
Spiegelberg said she enjoyed this project and anticipates that it will bring joy to all who visit.
"As an alderman, we are tasked with some pretty heavy issues — like approving new developments and scouring city budgets annually, to name a couple," Spiegelberg said. "Oz Plaza is one of the fun projects to be a part of."