Jeff Seymour sees potential in Oconomowoc
Waukesha developer, artist has big ideas
When Jeff Seymour came to downtown Waukesha about 15 years ago, it was a quiet area without much thriving development or buzz.
But he liked what he saw. He saw potential.
"I came to Waukesha because of opportunity," Seymour said. "There was a sense of a community, and I wanted to help thecommunity get better and improve the redevelopment.
"I got involved to help make a difference and make positive change."
He has this same vision for downtown Oconomowoc.
"It's just a beautiful area with plenty of opportunities," said Seymour, who lives in downtown Waukesha.
So, after having a hand in transforming downtown Waukesha through Art Crawls, other art movements and his own redevelopment project - Brook Street Artisan Village - Seymour is attempting to do the same in Oconomowoc.
He is hoping to accomplish this in the new Fowler Lake Village, a 38-unit condominium and commercial development that would be built over a city-owned parking lot on the Fowler Lake frontage.
"Condominiums are a much greater value to the city than houses," Seymour said.
Seymour said the project is still in its early stages (a majority of the City of Oconomowoc's Common Council voted to approve a preliminary agreement for the city to finance $6 million in July) and added that he has been seeking a redevelopment in the area since 2003.
He said the units would be all different sizes ranging from 900 square feet to 2,200, and said the Village would be a work-live concept, where the owner could live upstairs and work on another floor, similar to the Third Ward in Milwaukee.
"The city is looking to grow, and we're trying to restore the vitality in the area and be a catalyst for the rebirth in downtown Oconomowoc," Seymour said. "We're trying to attract to the creative class and really for any entrepreneurs in a live-to-work concept. It allows people to live and work in the same place and with the downtown so close, it becomes a walkable community and this style of living is very desirable."
Seymour said this model works especially for artists, but he encourages other entrepreneurs to see what these condominiums have to offer, something he has seen in Waukesha.
"These people will shop, dine and support local businesses," Seymour said. "I chose to do this because it's common for artists to help transform and redevelop downtowns and now they can have ownership and benefit financially from their efforts."
Expanding creative class
Seymour sees similarities between Waukesha and Oconomowoc.
"I think they're both beautiful," Seymour said. "They're both small cities with a lot of great characteristics. They're unique, but both have one thing in common: they want to improve, change, grow and be vibrant, and that's the goal of a lot of small and larger cities.
"It's also going to expand the entrepreneur and creative class."
This creative class will include artists - a group Seymour knows quite well.
His development in downtown Waukesha houses many local artists, and he's one himself.
He's a graphic designer by trade and paints as a "stress relief."
But it's not just a hobby as Seymour is quite skilled having been chosen to paint one of the 10-foot fiberglass Gibson guitars for the GuitarTown project in downtown Waukesha earlier this year.
He uses recycled materials in his work and even recycled paint. This was seen in his "Les is More" over-sized guitar creation when he used pieces of an old rocking chair as Les Paul's hairline, a key to the city that he received for the frame on Paul's glasses as well as a license plate for the base of the glasses.
'A sense of community'
Seymour says GuitarTown brought downtown Waukesha together and hopes to use that same mind-set in Oconomowoc.
"It was an incredible community-building event and that's at the heart of what I'm doing in Oconomowoc," Seymour said. "It's meant to be a community-building project and be interactive.
"People have had worries that this is going to close off the lakefront and exclude people. That's the opposite of what we're doing. It's a positive development downtown that's meant to compliment the entrepreneur and business spirit in Oconomowoc and be a catalyst for new and established businesses."
Seymour said he learned something through his Waukesha developments.
"People told me that they moved there because it gave them ownership and a sense of community," Seymour said. "That's great to hear because that's what we're trying to accomplish with this project in Oconomowoc."
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