For more than one hundred years, there has been a marina anchoring the western shore of Williams Bay. The marina has had name changes, facade changes, building additions and most likely subtractions, and has been an unwavering staple of our lake community for generations. Such enduring commitment should not be taken lightly, particularly as one considers the blight that a concrete and steel marina would present had it not been maintained and continually operated. While the marina itself is old, there are changes afoot, changes that have been draped in mystery and even controversy for more than a year.
I received the first alarmist email one night last summer. It was an appeal to me, as a captain of society, to take up arms and confront the evil menace that was the Gage Marine renovation plan. This electronic Paul Revere swept through the night, stopping at IP addresses along the way, hoping to incite a rebellion that would keep these structural and functional changes at bay. Everything you need to know about Williams Bay was present in that email, and in the reactions that followed. Change, while viewed as necessary by most logical human beings, has historically been met with fear in the village. When Mirbeau tried to turn the Yerkes Observatory property into a boutique hotel and spa, the backlash was so swift and severe that the group packed their bags and headed to Lake Geneva in order to embrace their next huge embarrassing disaster. The fear and trepidation that surrounded the Gage Marine rumors weren’t a surprise to me, and even today, after the plans have been laid bare and the purposes fully explained, much fear and opposition remains. This is why I’m here to comfort you and assuage your fears with this proclamation: The Gage Marine renovation will do more to ensure the future vitality of the village of Williams Bay than anything the village has approved or initiated in my lifetime. That is to say, the change in Gage will make Williams Bay matter.
With an intended launch in the spring of 2012, the fully utilitarian mix of steel and concrete that is Gage Marine will be transformed to include the addition of a lakefront restaurant. These simple words caused much consternation last fall, but if one is being truthful and reasonable, there is no way to refute the benefits of a lakeside restaurant and the accompanying softened edges that such an environment will create. The Gage property as it sits now is well maintained. It is useful, and for the purpose of launching and repairing boats, it is fully functional. What it is not, at the moment, is beautiful. The buildings are well kept, but were both built and maintained to suit the intended purpose, not to win any architecture awards. The reworking of this fine property from boat yard to maritime themed restaurant and gleaming showroom is not just a great addition to the lake, it’s a tremendous boon for adjacent and nearby property owners. And one obese Realtor whose parents may or may not live nearby.
If you take an existing group of buildings, no matter their use, and transform those buildings into shingle style aesthetically pleasing ones, no one could argue that the change would be anything but positive. If you take those same changes and add lush landscaping and pedestrian friendly access points, and set those modifications against the deep blue backdrop of Geneva Lake, well then those changes become downright magical. While the plan still has a ways to go, and there will be further approvals needed, the nuts and bolts of of the plan include a full renovation of the existing structures, the replacing of the southern most building, and the transformation of the current office space and repair shop into an extremely fabulous lakeside restaurant and bar. When I said bar, if you thought of Fat Cats, please picture something else. Something far more classy and beckoning. The true appeal to this new restaurant will be the outside dining that is, in this stellar location, truly lakeside.
The outstanding deck at Cafe Calamari and the divine patio at the Abbey’s Waterfront notwithstanding, the Lake Geneva dining scene has sorely lacked quality outdoor dining options. With the addition of this lakeside restaurant, there will finally be a place to sit and dine in the sun, with the lake mere steps away. The parking troubles that plague several other area restaurants will be obsolete here, and residents of Summer Haven should be glad to know that a plan is in the works to attempt to re-route the access away from the Liechty lakeside extension. Boaters will be pleased to know that Gage is promising boat mooring for as many as 40 or 50 diner driven boats, so during July of 2012, expect to see my boat tied to the Gage piers with alarming regularity. Also expect to see me sitting in the shade of a lakeside umbrella, shamefully stuffing my face with whatever fine epicurean delights I please. Better yet, the residents of the Congress Club, Loch Vista Club, Oakwood Estates, Summer Haven, and both Bay Colonies will be no more than a short 8 minute walk down the shore path to an easy lakeside lunch or dinner.
The building to the south of the main office (easily identifiable as the building with the deck) will be rebuilt in order to host a high end boat showroom and a private party room with even more outside dining. There are plans for outdoor fireplaces, potential outdoor grills (maybe similar to Below Deck at Abbey Springs, which gets a fat thumbs up from me), a probable playground area for kids, and more. The plans include a labyrinth of walkways constructed as piers, with canopies to shield outdoor diners or party patrons from the summer sun. Knowing the Gage family a bit, as I do, and understanding their fine tastes, as I do, I cannot see any way this project is not executed with the utmost style, and the end result cannot be anything but a significant boon not only for the west end of Williams Bay, but for the entire village, and beyond that, for all boaters who now have another water based dining option, and beyond that, for the all of Walworth County. This will be a true destination, and any naysayers needn’t say nay any longer.
For those concerned about noise, the good folks at Gage have gone above and beyond to assure that the restaurant will close around 11 pm, even in the summer. While the restaurant hopes to host some live music, it sounds more like a guy, or gal, and a guitar will be favored over full on rock and roll acts. As Bill Gage said at one of the Village approval meetings, ““There’s ‘Animal House,’ and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, and we’re ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.'” The adjacent property owners needn’t worry about increased noise any more than neighbors adjacent to the Lake Geneva Yacht Club worry about the same. If anything, the adjacent neighborhoods will benefit from the new Gage Marine, much in the same way that the properties on Bayview, Reid, and Kinzie in Fontana have benefited from their proximity to Gordy’s. Anyone worried about such developments negatively affecting their property values should instead expect the opposite to occur.
Some moderate construction will take place this summer, but the heavy lifting will begin after Labor Day. There will undoubtedly be changes to the plan, both significant and minor, but if the Gage family sticks to their guns and executes these improvements as I know they will, the benefits will be available for all of us to enjoy one short year from now. I, for one, can’t wait.