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Aldermen raise concerns about Brookfield Square expansion

Brookfield Square

Brookfield Square Photo By Staff Photo by C.T. Kruger

Jan. 22, 2014

Presented with plans to add nine stores to the exterior of Brookfield Square Mall, aldermen Scott Berg and Chris Blackburn brought up concerns about the nature of the proposed 70,000-square-foot expansion at a public hearing related to the project Tuesday.

No members of the public spoke at the hearing, which was meant to discuss whether to change zoning in the proposed expansion areas to allow buildings to be closer together and taller than in other parts of the city, said city Director of Community Development Dan Ertl. The city has made such allowances for previous expansions to the mall.

Blackburn said he thought in order to be granted these exceptions, the expansion should be to the interior of the mall, rather than an addition of stores to the exterior, where they will be adjacent to Brookfield Square but not actually connect to it.

"You can put these same nine stores on a number of properties," Blackburn said. "If there's a plan for this mall, it should be expanding the interior mall. Otherwise, I'm hard-pressed to see why this is special."

But Craig Wasserman, executive vice president of KA Inc. Architecture, said an expansion to the interior, such as a second floor, wouldn't be as profitable or visually appealing. There is a trend now for malls to have a balance between connected stores and exterior ones.

"Adding second-floor tenants makes it harder to lease," Wasserman said. "This really helps increase the value of the property, makes it more pedestrian-friendly and lightens up the exterior."

The mall owner, CBL & Associates, plans to add six stores to the east of Sears for an opening in spring, 2015, and three stores to the north and east of Boston Store to be completed one or two years later.

Berg, although he said he liked the idea of adding stores, was concerned about the wooded lot north of Firestone, where CBL has plans for an 111-stall parking lot. This would complement a 450-stall parking deck to maintain the mall's current parking ratio. Berg said he would like to see other ideas for keeping the space greener.

"I would like to see a more creative solution in developing that area and preserving it," Berg said. "One of the complaints about Brookfield Square is you drive by and see a sea of asphalt. I'm a little distressed to see a pave-it-over-for-parking mind-set."

Berg said he would like the space to become something like Milwaukee's Cathedral Square, an idea that has been tossed around Brookfield for several years.

Ertl previously explained the idea for a city park there could still be possible under the new proposal. A previous development agreement with CBL included a promise to give the parcel to the city if it came up with plans for the site. This could be retained in a new development agreement, whereby CBL would have to move its parking spaces if the city wanted to develop there.

If plans for the expansion move forward, there could be some city financing involved for parts of the project, including demolition work and construction of the parking structure. That money would come through the tax-incremental finance district on the mall, which has been collecting property taxes from parts of the mall since 2004.

Blackburn took issue with this idea, which was not part of the public hearing but would come up if the city goes through with a development agreement.

"I do not think public money should be spent on private parking on a private mall," Blackburn said. "I think we should have long ago returned that money to the public."

The Plan Commission and Common Council will consider the zoning change at future meetings.

Next step

WHAT: consideration of zoning change for proposed Brookfield Square expansion

WHO: Plan Commission

WHERE: City Hall, 2000 N. Calhoun Road

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10

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