CITY OF BROOKFIELD - If you build it, they will come.
City staff and the Brookfield Convention and Visitors Bureau remain convinced that a conference center can be the community’s field of dreams.
For years, the city of Brookfield and Visit Brookfield, the visitors bureau, have researched and moved toward the construction of a conference center that would be able to accommodate large-scale events currently unavailable to the Brookfield market.
Plenty of demand
Despite hurdles that have seen the potential location of the center to be a part of The Corridor development on Bluemound Road, officials remain confident that the center is not only feasible, but needed.
“A market study has found that Brookfield is highly attractive from a meeting planner’s perspective. At least in the study that was done, we are more attractive than Green Bay, Appleton, Waukesha, La Crosse. Only Madison and Milwaukee were more attractive for planning events,” city of Brookfield director of community development Dan Ertl said.
Ertl noted that the city and Visit Brookfield are currently looking at a number of sites that could potentially be developed by a hotel partner with the conference center attached, but that he could not comment on where those possible sites are.
Both Ertl and Visit Brookfield president and CEO Nancy Justman say that Brookfield, its 14 hotels and other local businesses are missing out on a significant amount of annual revenue through hotel rooms that could be filled and dollars that would be spent by those guests due to the lack of a large meeting space.
“There is lost business that we’re not securing because we don’t have a facility of this type,” Ertl said.
An economic impact analysis has found that the conference center would result in nearly $275,000 worth of new annual revenue for the city and almost $350,000 for the state of Wisconsin by 2018.
The current largest single meeting space in the city of Brookfield is at the Sheraton, but that area comes nowhere close to the 15,000- to 18,000-square-foot ballroom that the proposed conference center would feature.
According to numbers that Brookfield’s hotels provided to Justman, in the past two years, nearly 35,000 hotel room nights have been lost and almost $6,800,000 in economic impact due to a lack of a conference space of adequate size.
“Those were events that actually sought out Brookfield, had a strong interest in our community, and we were unable to accommodate because of lack of meeting space,” Justman said.
Current plans for the funding of the conference center would call for the hotel room tax in the city to be increased from 8 to 10 percent. The city of Brookfield would own the conference center and lease it to a hotel at an annual rate.
“We have a working financial operational model that finds a way to pay for the facility not using general tax dollars,” Ertl said. “City residents will not pay directly to the facility cost unless they stay in one of the hotels in Brookfield.”
Justman noted that 100 percent of the hotels in Brookfield are in favor of the tax increase to help fund the center.
The idea to spend hotel room tax funds on the center was partially inspired by a change by the state government two years ago that required communities to spend a larger portion of their hotel room tax revenue on tourism-related expenses rather than general operations. As such, Ertl said the city’s options are to increase spending on tourism promotion — such as advertising or billboards — or developing a building.
“In the opinion of city staff and, I believe city administration, we believe a better method to spend our room tax dollars moving forward is on a building, not on billboards,” Ertl said.
A number of aldermen have expressed concerns about whether pursuing a conference center is the right direction for the city at this time, although mayor Steve Ponto has spoken favorably about the idea.
The next step for the proposed conference center would be for the common council to approve a request for proposal process to find a nationally-branded hotel operator to be a partner for an adjacent conference center.
Ertl said he expects that task to be debated by the council sometime next month.