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Steampunk apparently is alive and well in downtown Wisconsin Dells — even if hardly anyone knows it yet or, in many cases, even knows what the word means.

Steampunk refers to the creative style that combines Victorian-era historical elements with more modern and sometimes fantastical visual fare — think: Wild Fun Zone, the downtown Dells indoor arcade that features gigantic creatures crawling above and over its building’s once-stately, turn-of-the-20th-Century façade.

The downtown Dells’ ubiquitous visual mix of old, new and odd throughout the facades that line Broadway — from the H.H. Bennett Studio to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and from Nig’s Bar to more than one jutting tour boat bow — makes the area a study in steampunk.

In fact, the style is so prevalent — if not necessarily intentional — that it could be the needed ingredient to give the downtown area a unifying “theme” and perhaps transform the into “a destination within a destination.”

So said Corena and Kevin Ricks recently during a presentation making the case for steampunk at a Dells Business Improvement District (BID) committee meeting.

The Ricks, who own and operate Ripley’s, Wizard Quest and several other downtown businesses, told the assembled committee it could be “a style that we feel will connect everything (downtown) and give us a theme.”

“It’s something in which you can combine different eras and it makes sense,” Kevin Ricks said. “We already have a unique downtown.”

“Steampunk punctuates our history in a unique way,” Corena Ricks said. “There’s no other town in the U.S. with that theme.”

Such a theme would allow the downtown area to maintain its already-eclectic mix of historic facades and modern attractions, the Ricks said.

“The railroad bridge is steampunk; the Duchess tourboat is steampunk,” Kevin Ricks said. “So many elements already exist here.”

The Ricks’ recent presentation to the BID committee comes on the heels of the recent unveiling, by the Dells River Arts District committee, of the numerous artistic and creative yet historic possibilities downtown, and the couple believes that most if not all of those possibilities would fit into a steampunk-themed downtown.

All the theme needs to “pop,” the Ricks said, are a few visually creative elements — such as steampunk-themed mosaics or murals, both of which already have been proposed for downtown — to tie it all together.

“You can get a lot of punch with small changes,” he said. “You could go so far or so little. Either way, you’re going to get an effect.”

The predominant reaction to the Ricks’ proposal by the gathered BID committee members present was positive.

“I think it’s fantastic — its genius,” said Original Wisconsin Ducks General Manager Dan Gavinski.

“I love it,” said Alderman and Showboat owner Jesse DeFosse. “I think it makes a lot of sense.”

With the BID committee members intrigued by their lesson in steampunk basics, the Ricks indicated their intent to keep spreading the word about its possibilities, starting with the Dells River Arts District committee, the relatively new city panel charged with overseeing the development of the art in the aforementioned district.

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Follow Ed Legge on Twitter @DellsEd



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