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Convention Center Proposed at Brookfield Square Mall

A consultant says building a new convention center near Brookfield Square mall or the former Ruby Farms would drive new business to area hotels and the Bluemound Road corridor.

Building a $27 million to $37 million convention center possibly near or attached to Brookfield Square mall would allow Brookfield to successfully compete for state and local association meetings local hotels can not accommodate, a consultant said Monday.

A convention center with 44,200 square feet of multipurpose, ballroom and meeting space would add 13,300 new annual hotel room nights to Brookfield's economy, and bring more traffic to its restaurants and retailers, said Tom Hazinski, managing director of Chicago-based HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment.

The center should not include designated exhibition space nor attempt to compete with far larger and reportedly underutilized facilities such as the Delta Airlines Center or Wisconsin State Fair Park, he said.

"The recommended Brookfield Conference Center is positioned to primarily serve as a location for state of Wisconsin association business and as a local area banquet facility," HVS said in a 121-page study released Monday.

A "high-end" Brookfield center could attract about 250 events and 80,000 guests a year, generating revenue of about $2.4 million, it says.

Who will fund it and how

But who would pay for a Brookfield convention center — and how — remain open questions. Substantial public investment — perhaps covering nearly the entire cost — would be required for the project to be built, Hazinski added.

Who would operate the center also is unanswered, with one option being construction of a joint hotel and convention center in which the new hotel would operate it.

Nonetheless, one local hotelier and the head of the Brookfield Convention & Visitors Bureau expressed excitement over the project's potential.

"We want to take Brookfield to the next level and this really does it," said Bob Dhir, president and CEO of DHIR Group, whose properties include the Quality Inn in Brookfield.

Dhir, who also is president of the board of directors for the Brookfield visitors bureau, said the entire board — including representatives from the City and Town of Brookfield — support the concept.

He cited The Corners redevelopment project in the town on the western end of the Bluemound Road commercial corridor and the potential for a convention center, eyed near the mall on the eastern end, or in the middle on the undeveloped former Ruby Farms property near Calhoun Road.

Tourism bureau excited about concept

"Everybody is very, very excited and thinking very positively about this," Dihr said. "Everybody seems to be very committed."

Hazinski presented his findings Monday at a joint meeting of the city's Economic Development Committee and Brookfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Nancy Justman, executive director of the bureau, said in an interview she was pleased the city was willing to split the $30,000 cost of the study of a center's market demand, development costs and financing.

"We are unable to bid on business every day because we don't have the space to accommodate," she said.

Brookfield's 13 hotels and motels represents the third-largest cluster of hotels in the state, behind downtown Milwaukee and the General Mitchell Airport area.

But the largest meeting space available in Brookfield is about 9,000 square feet at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel, just south of the mall and its Sears anchor, Justman said.

Hazinski's study recommends building a convention center with 30,000 square feet of functional multipurpose (banquet and exhibit) space, anchored by a 7,000-square-foot junior ballroom and 7,200 square feet of meeting and board rooms.

With support spaces and circulation, however, the gross area of the convention center would be about 92,300 square feet, the study says. That would cost about $21.8 million to $30.2 million. With contingency, insurance, fees and other related costs, the total development costs could be about $27.2 million to $37.6 million.

Center would compete with statewide peers

Rather than compete with the Frontier Airlines Center and State Fair Park, each of which have nearly 200,000 square feet of exhibition space, plus meeting and/or ballroom space, the Brookfield convention center would be more comparable to smaller centers that compete for annual business meetings and rotating state association gatherings.

The study lists comparables such as the Country Springs Hotel, Milwaukee Marriott West and Olympia Resort & Conference Center — all further west in Waukesha County — and further outstate, the Radisson Paper Valley in the Fox Valley, Holiday Inn Stevens Point and Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.

However, HVS indicated the Brookfield center could draw some state association meeting traffic away from Milwaukee, according to event planners surveyed who said they might prefer to meet in Brookfield to avoid higher hotel room rates and parking issues.

The city's next step is to fund a separate study of the likely economic development impact of building a convention center. That study, roughly about $5,000, will be fully funded by the city's Economic Development budget and should be complete by December or January.

Mall or Ruby Farms eyed as site

Saying convention centers need to be near a mass of hotel rooms — or better yet, connected to them, the study recommends two sites for a convention center: next to Brookfield Square mall or on the former Ruby Farms site, the city's largest undeveloped swath of land stretching from Bluemound Road to I-94, west of Calhoun Road.

The study ranked the mall area is preferable, given its proximity to more hotels, restaurants and retail some of which in a walkable environment. The mall area also already has an approved tax incremental financing district that could be used to fund improvements for the center, but Ruby Farms does not.

While Ruby Farms has much more land, there is land south of the mall and Sears owns about 35 acres. The mall area also has easy access to I-94 with the Moorland Road interchange. While the city has long studied adding an interchange at Calhoun Road, there are no immediate plans to build one.

"Integration with the mall site is highly recommended," the market study says.

The city has not received any proposals for hotel or convention center development, Dan Ertl, city community development director, said in an interview.

A new Marriott hotel had been part of a previous development plan for the Ruby Farms but that never came to fruition, Ertl said.

Justman said Hazinski plans to meet Tuesday with the general managers of Brookfield's hotels to explain his findings and gauge reaction to a new center and potential 14th hotel.

She said Brookfield's existing hotels have been operating at annual occupancies of about 60 percent.

"We're just digesting the info at this point," Justman told Patch. "I think our work has just begun."

Scott Berg October 17, 2012 at 09:11 PM
If the city did (partially) fund this project, as it has the study, and the completed convention center caused the hotels to sell far more rooms than they are now causing them to brag how good business is, would someone say, "You didn't build that!" ? And would they be correct? Or is it more complicated than that?

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