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One of the features that city officials very much coveted when developer Irgens brought forth plans for The Corridor is close to coming to fruition.

Officials say that talks of a conference center in the mixed-use portion of The Corridor have progressed.

Visit Brookfield President and CEO Nancy Justman said that this is 'absolutely' the closest Brookfield has come to a conference center yet.

'We're very excited,' Justman said. 'We've been working on this for several years.'

The city has narrowed its list of potential architects for the project down to two: Kahler Slater and HGA.

'We did a design contest where we went out to several architects in the greater Milwaukee area and asked them to provide qualification interests,' Justman said.

The center is slated to be 35,000 square feet and will include a 20,000-square-foot ballroom.

Justman said that in order to fund the conference center, which will have a budget of between $9 million and $12 million, the city's hotel room tax will be increased from 8 to 10 percent.

'We believe it's a strong plan. We're not looking at any tax dollars from the general fund to be used, or property tax. It's all room tax dollars,' Justman said.

City officials brought up the idea of a conference center last year as one of the public benefits in order to qualify The Corridor for tax incremental financing assistance. Irgens officials agreed to work with the city on the process and reserved space to attach the center to the announced Hilton Garden Hotel near the middle of the development.

'We are the third-largest cluster of hotels in southeastern Wisconsin behind downtown and the airport,' Justman said. 'For us, with over 2,000 hotel rooms, space for meetings and conferences is very important.'

Justman said that the largest space currently available in the area right now is at the Sheraton Hotel on Moorland Road, which offers a maximum of 8,000 square feet of continuous meeting space. She also noted that a conference center will help to not only fill hotel rooms in the area, but will also generate other income associated with tourism.

'It helps our retail and our restaurants if we have a 4,000- or 5,000-person conference,' Justman said. 'That's a lot of people who are staying overnight, dining and shopping.'

City of Brookfield Economic Development Administrator Tim Casey noted that desire and appropriateness of a conference center became even more profound for the city after a change in the hotel room tax law last year.

'The most important thing that's changed in the last three years is that last year the state legislature changed the law so that we are compelled to send more of the hotel room tax dollars to either tourism promotion or development,' Casey said. 'The city has no choice because of the state law. Given that new reality, we'd rather, if we're compelled by the state as we are to send more dollars towards tourism promotion and development, develop something that would bring more tourism to Brookfield rather than buying ads.'

Casey noted that the coming elections in April, which lead to restructuring of city committees, may cause a slight delay in being able to bring an official proposal before elected officials.

'We're anticipating probably July or later that we would be able to bring a package forward,' Casey said.

Casey also said that the conference center, if all goes according to plan, will likely not be finished until 2018.

'I don't see how construction could start any earlier than spring of next year,' Casey said. 'Then, it would probably take at least a year for a building of that size.'

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