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Questions linger over Von Maur development

Business leaders, local officials ponder merits of plan

March 16, 2011

Shelly Rosman can see the 19 acres pegged for a 450,000-square-foot office and retail development on Bluemound Road from the front door of her business.

But the owning partner of Les Moise isn't sure how Marcus Corp.'s plans to build a $100 million retail center, dubbed Poplar Creek, would affect her business.

"I think Bluemound has as much traffic as it can handle right now. I don't think it's going to pull in people from elsewhere," she said. "But I can't be that informed until I know exactly what we're dealing with there."

After all, Rosman hadn't even heard of Von Maur before plans surfaced for the Iowa-based department store to anchor the development with a 150,000-square-foot location.

Von Maur representatives did not return a reporter's phone calls.

State legislators last week backed a tax-incremental financing district that would dedicate new tax proceeds from the development north of Interstate 94 on the former Menards and West Point Cinema properties to related town infrastructure projects.

Towns, unlike cities and villages, are not authorized to create TIF districts for retail development.

As the measure now moves to Gov. Scott Walker for consideration, opinions vary as to how the development would impact the area.

A win-win?

Bluemound's retail vacancy currently ranges from 15 to 18 percent, while office vacancy along the corridor is closer to 20 percent, according to city data.

Brookfield Town Board Chairman Keith Henderson envisions the development drawing reinvestment to the corridor's blighted areas and complementing Brookfield Square Mall.

"With the retail anchor on the east end of Bluemound, and this retail anchor on the west end, I would hope the areas in between would all benefit," he said.

The town's infrastructure would also benefit, Henderson said, with a possible eight- to 12-year TIF district that would fund town infrastructure improvements.

"Bluemound Road is a pretty good retail shopping destination. We think this could make an even better retail destination," he said.

Carol White, president of the Greater Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, sees the proposed development as a positive sign for the local economy.

"Based on the numbers I've seen - 350 to 380 construction jobs and more than 100 new full-time jobs in this economy - I really see it being a positive thing," she said.

Concerns linger

Representatives from CBL & Associates Properties, which owns Brookfield Square, and city of Brookfield Mayor Steven Ponto testified against state legislation authorizing the town's TIF district.

"This kind of TIF district has never been permitted until now for a town government," Ponto said. "Towns serve a useful purpose in rural areas, but towns were not meant to be an enduring form of government in metropolitan areas."

Rather than seek legislative approval of a TIF district, Ponto said, "the town of Brookfield should join with whatever incorporated entity it's interested in."

In light of current office and retail vacancies on Bluemound, Ponto also asked: "Where are these additional businesses going to come from? It's a real questionable move for a market that already has significant vacancies to use a government subsidy for additional retail and office space."

A city of Brookfield's TIF district has drawn more than $88 million for city infrastructure improvements since its creation in 2004.

"The goal for that particular TIF was to encourage development along Executive Drive and infill tenants in the mall," city of Brookfield Director of Development Dan Ertl said.

Town Administrator Rick Czopp did not return phone calls for comment on this story.

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