Development analysis says project could pump $500,000 into economy
Leaders in the business community think a proposal for Ozaukee County to build a $3.8 million fairgrounds facility that would be shared with the Milwaukee Curling Club is pretty cool.
“I can see it being a real boon to the local economy,” Ozaukee Economic Development Executive Director Kathleen Cady Schilling said.
The concept received a warm reception when it was presented to the County Board earlier in the month, but Board Chairman Rob Brooks said the proposal is not yet a done deal.
What has piqued the interest of the business community is that the sprawling 28,000-square-foot building proposed for the north end of the fairgrounds in Cedarburg would be available for public use during the part of the year it is not being used by the curling club.
The club, which for the past 40 years has rented facilities at Ozaukee Country Club in Mequon, is primarily interested in a building where five sheets of ice can be maintained.
With so much ice, supporters say the club — which dates to 1845 — will be able to host major tournaments, known as bonspiels in the parlance of curling.
The club holds several such tournaments every year at its Mequon facility, attracting as many as 120 competitors from outside the area.
That activity could increase if the new center is built, and Cady Schilling said it could result in a windfall for the central part of the county.
At the request of county officials, she prepared an economic impact analysis of the proposed shared facility and projected it could pump more than $500,000 a year into the local economy.
“I didn’t have enough time to prepare a detailed analysis, but I was able to utilize the information provided by the curling club to come up with an annual economic impact of the relocation,” Cady Schilling said.
The analysis looked at direct effects — such as goods and services purchased from local businesses and money spent by visitors from outside the community for such expenses as lodging and food — and indirect effects — such as the profits and wages realized by the local economy as a result of the additional business.
The relocation of the curling club would tend to move those financial benefits to central Ozaukee County.
Cady Schilling said the curling club had a total direct impact on Ozaukee County businesses of $296,450 last year, but using a multiplier of 1.8 developed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis to measure trickle-down financial value, a benefit figure of $533,195 was calculated.
“As these various expenditures move through a given economy, they produce employment, output and income growth,” Cady Schilling said in her analysis.
The real value of the project to the business community, she said, could be in the creation of a new venue for conferences and business shows during the curling club’s down time.
That is expected to be April through September, freeing the building for use by the Ozaukee County Fair in August, and throughout the year by groups like 4-H.
“Just last week, I was approached by a large local company asking about a location where a conference for 100 people could be held. At this point, there is nothing like that available in the central part of the county,” Cady Schilling said.
“Having something like this building available would allow us to keep things like conferences, conventions and trade shows here rather than sending them down to Milwaukee. From the perspective of Ozaukee Economic Development, sending people to Milwaukee is definitely not something we want to do.”
Tentative plans for the shared building call for an expansive exhibition area, 30-by-40-foot meeting room, lounge, bar and kitchen.
“We’ve heard from a number of caterers saying a place like this would be ideal for large weddings, reunions and family gatherings,” Cady Schilling said.
Nancy Hundt, executive director of the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce, said her board of directors has endorsed the proposal because it would fill a niche in the community.
“I get calls, I wouldn’t say every day or even every week, but with some regularity with inquiries about the availability of large facilities. It would be great if we could keep that business in our community,” Hundt said.
“Right now, the closest option is the Washington County Fairgrounds, but that is not easy to get to. This would be right in the community.”
The Cedarburg Chamber of Commerce and the tourism councils for Cedarburg and Ozaukee County have also backed the plan.
Hundt said the facility seems to present a classic “win-win scenario” with the curling club getting a new, larger facility and county businesses benefiting from the possibilities a large exhibition venue offers.
Brooks said he, too, can see the business benefit a curling center would bring the county.
However, he said, his primary concern is making sure it is financially justified.
“There are very limited options in the area that offer this kind of gathering space, and one thing the county would never do is build something that takes business away from the private sector,” Brooks said.
Another concern, he said, is that the curling club — and its fund-raising arm, the Milwaukee Curling Association — is able to meet a $1 million up-front obligation.
If that earnest money can be raised, the group would be expected to pay an additional $1 million over the next 20 years. A 50-year lease for the ongoing use of the building would also expected from the club.
“As the owner of two bars, I have probably heard the full range of comments from people on this issue,” Brooks said.
“The comments pretty much fall into three camps. One third think it makes no sense to spend any money on the fairgrounds and that the fair should be moved. Another group thinks this is just not the time to spend money on things that aren’t essential, and the fairgrounds is pretty far down on the priority list.
“Then the last group, and they may be larger than the other groups, think it is a great idea for the county.”
By sharing the building with the curling club, Brooks said, the facility would get much more use than if it was built solely for use by the county. In addition, getting the private group to pay for a share of the building reduces the overall cost to the county.
Brooks said before he fully endorses the new facility, he wants long-term assurances from the Cedarburg Fire Department that the fairgrounds will be available to the county. The firefighter association owns about half of the fairgrounds.
A $5.5 million capital plan for the area also includes the replacement of four buildings on the south side of the fairgrounds with two new facilities, along with upgrades to sewer lines and lighting.
The shared building proposal has been developing over the past two years, and Brooks said it is certain to get more scrutiny before a deciding County Board vote.
“It could be a big boost to the local economy. We are pretty excited by the possibilities, but you can be assured we are looking at all the options,” he said.
A vote on the project is expected next month. If it gets the green-light from supervisors, officials say construction could be complete in time for the 2012 curling season.
THE OZAUKEE COUNTY BOARD is considering a proposal to erect a multiuse building (shown in the conceptual rendering above) on the fairgrounds in Cedarburg that is being touted as a potential boon for the business community. The facility would become the new home of the Milwaukee Curling Club and provide a venue for large gatherings and meetings. The club currently uses an ice rink on the grounds of Ozaukee Country Club in Mequon (lower photo). The proposal has the backing of a number of local business groups. Photo by Mark Jaeger