Liam Krehbiel plans redevelopment of George Williams College

Wants to turn 137-acre campus into retreat, inn and nature preserve

Liam Krehbiel Plans Redevelopment Of George Williams College
Liam Krehbiel and George Williams College (LinkedIn, GWC Conference Center)

Liam Krehbiel, founder and CEO of Topography Hospitality, is plotting an ambitious redevelopment on Geneva Lake in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. 

Krehbiel, who’s the great-grandson of Frederick Krehbiel, the founder of electronics company Molex, wants to transform the 137-acre George Williams College campus into a retreat center, amphitheater, country inn and nature preserve, the Chicago Tribune reported

The campus, owned by Aurora University, has been at risk of being turned into a residential subdivision due to the university’s intent to divest the property amid skyrocketing sale prices for lakefront sites.

Krehbiel wants to convert the former golf course on the campus into a 90-acre public nature preserve, linked to the Geneva Lake Shore Path. That plan would provide a sanctuary while also protecting the nearby Yerkes Observatory from light pollution, which a residential development would exacerbate. 

The developer envisions a lakeside country inn with a blend of bedrooms and cabins, along with a restaurant and spa. 

In between the inn and the nature preserve, Krehbiel wants to construct a retreat center and performing arts venue, which would be used for educational, business and entertainment purposes.

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While several structures would be retained as part of the redevelopment, some buildings would be demolished, reducing the total building square footage from 109,000 square feet to 94,000 square feet, the outlet reported. Development would cover 6.3 acres, compared to 9 aces as the campus currently stands. 

Krehbiel’s bid to buy the George Williams campus is pending. The property is valued at roughly $35 million, according to a real estate source in Lake Geneva.

Krehbiel’s involvement with the 19th-century Ballyfin Demesne in Ireland, which was converted into an acclaimed hotel by his father, underscores his expertise in such ventures. 

The George Williams campus dates back to the 19th century, when the YMCA had a summer camp there. Meanwhile, the neighboring Yerkes Observatory, owned by the University of Chicago until 2018, has undergone shifts in ownership and plans, including a forthcoming women’s leadership center on 8.6 lakefront acres.

—Quinn Donoghue 

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