Waupun gears up for tourism boost

December 21, 2018
"Recording Angel" is a statue presented as a gift to the city of Waupun in 1923 and is located in Forest Mound Cemetery. It is one of eight bronze statues that have made Waupun the City of Sculptures.

WAUPUN — Waupun is known as the “City of Sculptures,” thanks to the contributions of Clarence Shaler. The wealthy industrialist was a keen sculptor himself, and he created six of the eight sculptures on display around the city.

While that is in itself a noteworthy achievement, Waupun offers so much more. That is the focus of efforts to promote tourism in the area, as outlined by Waupun City Administrator/Director of Economic Development Kathy Schlieve.

According to Schlieve, Waupun’s efforts are being aided by an alliance with the Fond du Lac Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Waupun has been a member of that organization for the past two years, utilizing room tax dollars to promote tourism.

A total of $61,600 is budgeted for 2019, which is 70 percent of room tax revenue for the city. The remaining 30 percent is retained to support city festivals and other special events.

According to Schlieve, joining the Fond du Lac group makes good economic sense.

“We could have joined a group or formed our own commission, and when we looked at our options we chose them because of their extensive capabilities in marketing and sales,” Schlieve said. “They have dedicated sales people specializing in the markets that we want to attract here — such as tour groups for example. For the limited amount of dollars we bring in each year, it would not pay for us to reduplicate their structure.”

The first year was dedicated to identifying resources and deciding how to market them.

As part of that initial push, motorized trolleys arrived in Waupun, carrying guests to visit the city’s sculptures. Although other cities may have more sculptures, Waupun boasts one of the highest concentrations of public art per capita in the United States. Waupun also has one of the first Carnegie libraries in the state (financed by steel baron Andrew Carnegie), the first state prison (built in 1851) and several other properties listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Retail attractions include the historic Brooks Shoes store, Gysbers Jewelry (established in 1874), Guth’s Candies and many other businesses and restaurants.

Waupun also hosts many successful events and activities including the farmer’s market, the Truck-n-Show, Celebrate Waupun, Volksfest, Halloween on Main, Small Business Saturday, Concerts in the Park, an American Legion baseball tournament, wine walks, a Brau Bash and more.

The city also has bike lanes and is working to connect trails to Horicon Marsh, which is only a few miles east on Highway 49.

A key to success is marketing the region, rather than a single city or place.

“We know that visitors who come don’t care about city limits or county boundaries,” Schlieve said. “We know they care about being able to enjoy an experience that the region has to offer, so being part of a bigger picture has some real value. The marsh and Marsh Haven are two important assets.”

To tap into that market, Waupun has a slogan: “Success is in our Nature,” and a theme: “Naturally Waupun.” Those taglines will be highlighted in a tourism website currently being developed.

Waupun is also teaming up with the Dodge County Tourism Group, and will be part of a “Discover Wisconsin” broadcast focused on Dodge County. Waupun, Beaver Dam and Watertown will have sections in that broadcast to be aired in 2020.

Results are dramatic and measurable.

“The Convention & Visitors Bureau has really have helped to establish our social media presence, and has grown our impressions by 600 percent,” Schlieve said. “Our room tax dollars are up 10 percent year after year. As we look forward, we’re rebranded as ‘Destination Winnebago Region,’ and Waupun is their first expansion. Other communities will be brought into this, but we’ll continue to aggressively pursue tourism dollars into the future.

“Joining with the Convention & Visitors Bureau is turning out to be a very smart partnership, from my perspective. That doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do — we do — but now people from Milwaukee and Chicago are looking at us. The things we are doing are taking advantage of that revenue stream, and will undoubtedly help the local economy.”

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