The new Heidel has been downsized to 115 rooms and will have a new focus on wedding and corporate meeting business. White is aiming for an average occupancy rate of 70 percent.
Townspeople are delighted by the turn of events. “The closing of the Heidel House had taken all the wind out of our sails,” says Green Lake Mayor Ray Radis, a former executive in Chicago who also decided to retire in Wisconsin. “We were suddenly a resort town without a resort. And as we found out, it’s tricky trying to find an investment group willing to invest in a hospitality business in a small town like ours.”
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That’s true, in large part, as big water parks have risen up 50 miles southwest in the Wisconsin Dells, attracting many of the families with kids who once headed to Green Lake and cutting into the Heidel’s business. Then four years ago a new golf resort called Sand Valley opened up 60 miles northwest, luring away golfers who had once counted on playing at Green Lakes’ Lawsonia Links, down the road from the Heidel House.
Thus Green Lake faces more competition than ever. Even so, White is investing beyond the Heidel House in land suitable for residential development. Single family homes are in short supply in the area, he notes, and he is planning small developments with houses priced at $500,000 and more—big bucks for the small town.
“Land has doubled in value up here in the past five years,” says White. “COVID has demonstrated that people can work from anywhere, and Illinois residents are deciding that they can work out of houses up here and enjoy a better lifestyle.”
As for his own lifestyle, White admits that he is plenty busy at the moment. But within the rural backdrop he doesn’t feel the old stress anymore. “I don’t miss my corporate life at all. That’s all in my my rearview mirror,” White says. “Been there, done that.”
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