CITY OF BROOKFIELD – It’s finally official.

A conference center is coming to the city of Brookfield.

But a common question remains constant: Where?

The city of Brookfield common council approved a motion to direct city staff to take steps in preparation for the construction of a conference center.

The process includes finding a final location and a request for proposal process that will seek out potential hotel partners willing to build a new location adjacent to the center, which would be owned by the city.

Under the proposed plan, the city plans to purchase land somewhere in the vicinity of Brookfield Square and the conference center would then be leased out to the adjoining hotel partner.

“Owners of parcels near Brookfield Square and Executive Drive are willing to sell their sites to the city of Brookfield for a conference center,” city of Brookfield director of community development Dan Ertl said.

Study shows need

Since 2012 the city and Visit Brookfield have been exploring the possibility of a conference center with a market feasibility study showing that hundreds of thousands of dollars of annual revenue are being lost both in the city and for the state government due to the community not offering a large enough meeting space.

The current largest contiguous meeting space in the city is at the Sheraton and is approximately 7,000 square feet. The proposed conference center would offer a meeting space of up to 18,000 square feet.

Officials from the Sheraton have said that they are aware of conference opportunities that have been interested in Brookfield but went elsewhere due to there not being a large enough space available in the community.

“I think it’s kind of known that we are the largest meeting room hotel in Brookfield and one of the things that we’ve really been seeing in our market is that a lot of different programs that we’ve had at our property are starting to outgrow our size,” Sheraton general manager Jacqueline Raffaele said.

Financing plan

The conference center process would include increasing the hotel room tax from 8 to 10 percent.

The financing plan has been designed with the goal of preventing a need for the city’s general tax dollars to be used for the conference center.

However, aldermen Jerry Mellone, Christopher Blackburn and Renee Lowerr argued that the proposal could potentially not go according to plan.

“I think it’s very important that the costs are firewalled off from the general tax base so no resident or business that is not a hotel ever has to pay anything towards the cost of this,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn suggested potentially using a special assessment if necessary to pay for any financial shortfalls; however, city attorney Karen Flaherty noted that the use of such a special assessment enforced only toward Brookfield hotels would likely not be possible.

“A special assessment is imposed on properties that receive some kind of a special benefit from a project and it would be our opinion that it’s not just the hotels that are receiving a benefit — the benefit is much broader,” Flaherty said. “If challenged by the hotels, that benefit also goes to other businesses in the city whose income is increased, such as restaurants and stores.”

Alderman Mark Nelson voiced his support for the proposal while referencing a previous point made by Ertl that a conference center is one amenity that the city of Brookfield has yet to offer.

“This sort of rounds out the city of Brookfield and makes us even more special, and the more we can elevate ourselves above some of our neighbors by having these special amenities, I think it just adds to the entire Brookfield experience,” Nelson said. “It puts us in a position where we can say, ‘We’ve got it all in the city of Brookfield.’”

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