For the past two years, real estate developer Matt Rogatz has been making a weekly five-hour round trip from his home on Chicago’s north side to Green Lake, Wis. – population 1,005.

Previously, he said, all he knew about the small town was that his high school friend had family there.

But after a 30-year career in industrial real estate in which he closed more than 400 transactions totaling more than $750 million, Rogatz says he hit a wall, triggering a midlife crisis.

“I was looking for my next industrial property and couldn’t find anything of value,” Rogatz told CNBC Travel. “My life was kind of on autopilot. I haven’t developed as an individual. A lot of people might be retiring at this point, but I’m not that guy.”

Shopping in Green Lake.

Source: Our green lake

Rogatz said he “definitely” doesn’t want to get into the hotel industry. He said he had no idea how to run a hotel and was put off by horror stories about bad hotel guests. He also said he had heard that restaurants were notorious for thefts.

But an internet search at the beginning of 2021 completely changed his mind, he said.

A small town hotel for sale

One day Rogatz saw on the computer that a small hotel – the Green Lake Inn – was for sale. The 17-room property sits on 1.5 acres, just minutes from the small town’s “downtown” area and, most importantly, just around the corner from the 7.3-mile-long lake, considered the deepest in Wisconsin.

The Green Lake Inn.

Source: Our green lake

Rogatz took the risk, believing that, in a worst-case scenario, he could use the inn for private getaways and invite his extended family on vacation. He spent the next few months renovating the inn, which he described as “well maintained but very dated.”

This worst-case scenario did not occur – on the contrary, he said.

“The timing was just right, just like after the Corona crisis, and people started wanting to do things again,” remembers Rogatz. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m on to something.’ I made a decent amount of money in the first year.”

On the road to success

His next purchase was The Manor, a magnificent waterfront villa and guest house with its own jetty, formerly known as The Angel Inn.

The gentlemen.

Source: Our green lake

The elderly couple who had run it as a bed and breakfast wanted to retire to spend more time with their grandchildren. Rogatz gave the seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom property a complete facelift, replacing the dark color scheme and 1970s carpets, linens and furniture with modern finishes and windows that maximized lake views.

Rogatz’s entrepreneurial spirit took flight and he immediately saw the potential in putting together wedding packages that included both properties – the Green Lake Inn as a wedding venue and The Manor as additional guest accommodations. He even bought a van to transport guests between venues.

Élan Brio Spa.

Source: Our green lake

Then, like a Monopoly player on the road to success, when the local spa, Élan Brio, came onto the market, Rogatz snapped up that property too. That meant he could add hair and beauty treatments to weddings, which included diving in the spa’s saltwater pools.

The addition of the Goose Blind bar and restaurant and partnership with local golf courses sealed the deal for vacation packages for fishermen and golfers in the area.

Goose Blind Restaurant and Bar.

Source: Our green lake

“I’ve had groups of 24 guys stay at our hotel. We take them to the golf course and then to the Goose Blind and they love it. Then we’ll bring them back. They don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.” “We put everything together for them so they only pay one fee,” Rogatz said.

The inn also has outlets where fishermen can load their boats, he said. “And we have boat parking, which many hotels don’t have,” he added.

Two years — and five properties — later, Rogatz has a full-fledged tourism operation — Our Green Lake — that cost him nearly $4 million to purchase and several million more in renovations, he said.

A new short vacation

Attracting more tourists to Green Lake has become a personal mission, Rogatz said — especially for those who regularly visit another Wisconsin city called Lake Geneva, which he described as the default vacation spot for Chicagoans.

An ice sailing race on Green Lake.

Source: Our green lake

“It’s incredibly expensive and crowded. It’s not even fun because there are so many boats. “But Green Lake is just a little further from Chicago, so it’s not really on the radar for a lot of Chicagoans,” Rogatz said.

He plans to change that by marketing adventure sports groups in Chicago and building relationships in different cities to promote Our Green Lake. The normally quiet winter months — when average temperatures are below freezing — aren’t even an obstacle, he said. Always optimistic and opportunistic, Rogatz plans to entertain visitors with activities such as ice sailing, ice fishing, curling and even dog sledding, he said.

Rogatz said his latest purchase — the three-story former prison in Green Lake — will also feature indoor activities in the winter, such as boutique shopping and a flea market, as well as cooking and mixology classes.

He’s already converted the first floor, which housed a kitchen, into a 40-seat breakfast spot called Terrace Cafe. The second floor, where the jail cells used to be, is proving a little more difficult, he said.

The third floor is used for a monthly bingo night, which Rogatz has agreed to continue using if he can use it for other events such as laser tag and obstacle courses during the remaining time.

Green Lake’s “Renaissance”

Rogatz sees the vacant properties in Green Lake not as a warning sign, but as an opportunity to bring the city a “renaissance.”

Green Lake is a small town in Wisconsin with a population of 1,005.

Source: Our green lake

He said he and other investors who have bought local golf courses, cafes, hotels and bowling alleys have energized Green Lake. Rogatz said he is now a consultant on the Green Lake Economic Development Committee.

While some locals have expressed concern that their hidden gem could soon be as busy as Lake Geneva, the Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce is excited to see the city “put on the map,” especially in the winter, said Lisa Meier, executive director of the Chamber Director.

“Matt’s investments will help ensure our charming community is recognized as a year-round destination,” Meier said.

For Rogatz, ensuring Green Lake thrives has become his personal mission.

“You come to Green Lake and you immediately breathe,” he said. “You are feeling fine. You are relaxed. You feel all the stress of the city leaving you.”

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