Monday, January 12, 2009

Time to end the Pabst Farms fantasy

Tomorrow night Oconomowoc is going to have another meeting on the future of Pabst Farms. Oconomowoc Mayor Maury Sullivan is no longer drinking the developer Kool-Aid and no longer believes that Pabst Farms is being developed as a regional attraction with high-end retail.

Sullivan said the outdoor mall has been reduced to a “strip retail center” along Highway 67 and a pedestrian-oriented lifestyle center that has yet to be defined. Sullivan said Pabst Farms has also been unwilling to commit to a completion date of the lifestyle center. The developers have also promised public use areas and a 24-hour security service, but those features would not be in place until the lifestyle center is finished, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he is withholding judgment until he sees the developer’s final plans, but he does not want the community to be duped into a bait-and-switch situation.

“I bought into the proposal, I supported the plan and I accepted the promise, so if they’re proposing something less than what they have proposed – and in effect promised – then I have some reluctance,” he said.

Although no Town Centre tenants have been officially named, Sullivan said retail recruiter Mid-America Real Estate Group sent him a list of potential tenants, including Target, Kohl’s, PetSmart and OfficeMax. Three of those retailers already operate stores at Highway 83 and Interstate 94 in Delafield.

Sullivan said there were no unique, upscale retailers mentioned in the letter, which he received in September.

This was, of course, predictable when the contract was signed with the developer in question back in 2007.

Now high-end retail is going into the tank along with the economy. High-end stores are looking to close locations, not open them. Meanwhile, a developer lacking experience working with high-end retail is experiencing a crash in its stock price, and yet they're still promising a mall opening in 2010. For its part, Waukesha County is still looking at a $24 million off-ramp construction project to support this development.

If this project is allowed to continue, it's very likely we will only see stores at the Pabst Farms location that are comparable (if not exactly the same) as the stores at the other exits along the same stretch of highway. Nobody has yet made a case that such a development assisted by the government makes good public policy.

It's time to put an end to the Pabst Farms fantasy. At a time when government budgets are tight already, there is no sense in continuing with the highway reconstruction to support Pabst Farms. There is no reason to continue to hope against experience that somehow we can re-create Madison Avenue in the middle of nowhere, especially with this developer in this economic climate at this time. There is no development plan. It's over.