A 2006 conceptual plan included several renderings of a
vibrant Pabst Town Centre retail development.
OCONOMOWOC — “Pabst Farms” are two words
that often stir up strong opinions among residents of
Oconomowoc. After a decade, people still are asking a
seemingly simple question: “What’s going on out there?”
is a fair question, but not a simple one. In fact, it
might be the wrong question to ask, or at least the
wrong question to ask first.
is most often referred to as Pabst Farms comprises 1,100
acres located at the Interstate 94 and Highway 67
interchange. It contains about 540 acres of developable
land and sits both within and outside of a now-closed
tax incremental financing district called TIF No. 3.
Pabst Town Centre, a planned use retail development that
has seen little growth despite the bright promise of its
many conceptual plans — some looking like retail
Disneylands or quaint English city centers — is only a
part of the overall Pabst Farms property, though it is
often the focus of questions from residents.
Today, parts of Pabst Farms are vacant. Fields of soybeans
rather than a bustling Pabst Town Centre are a main feature
of the 1,100-acre parcel of land.
Eric Oliver/Enterprise Staff
Officials include former Mayor Jim Daley and current
Mayor Dave Nold have answered that question by blaming
bad timing and the poor retail environment.
Blum, executive vice president and managing director of
HSA Commercial Real Estate’s Retail Brokerage Division,
and an agent for the successful Mayfair Collection
development in Wauwatosa, said a better question might
be “why does Oconomowoc want a development like (Pabst
said big mixed-use developments are “messy and
expensive” and questioned whether a community the size
of Oconomowoc — a community also bookended by retail
developments in Delafield and Johnson Creek — has the
population density to sustain it.
“Oconomowoc is a special place for different reasons;
one is the lifestyle there,” Blum said referring to its
reputation as part of Lake Country — a laid-back,
semirural and affluent community.
Wauwatosa, he said, people “are living on top of each
other” so large retail developments make more sense.
Oconomowoc City Planner and Zoning Administrator Jason
Gallo said it is fair to question the viability of
Oconomowoc’s population density for Pabst Farms. Gallo
did not work for the city in Pabst Farms’ earliest
stages, but said it could be a key factor in its success
“That’s what I’ve heard. We don’t have the rooftops to
support it. I don’t know how many rooftops we need. It
might be 50 years and we still don’t have the rooftops
to support that,” Gallo said.
said Oconomowoc cannot compete with traffic counts at
places like the Mayfair Collection. He said the answer
is a destination retailer.
can say this because they are not coming here, but that
is why it needs an Ikea-type business, something that
would draw people from Madison and Milwaukee,” he said.
But Gallo, who has seen many iterations of the Pabst
Town Centre plan in his six years with the city, also
said he feels Pabst Farms overall has been a success for
Oconomowoc, particularly the TIF #3 it inhabited.
According to a 2014 report from staff, the creation of
TIF #3 has generated significant tax base for the city
and paid off its debt early, and it served as a donor
TIF for improvements downtown. The TIF was closed in
that measure, Gallo said, he feels Pabst Farms and the
TIF #3 has been a great thing for Oconomowoc.
The Mayfair Collection in Wauwatosa has weathered the
economic downturn. In Oconomowoc, Pabst Farm Town Centre has
not done as well, leaving some to wonder if the development
is just too big for the city.
Eric Oliver/Enterprise Staff
Taxes and zoning
members on the Common Council have recently expressed
concern about tax losses due to zoning changes allowing
farming to take place on the undeveloped commercial land
in Pabst Farms.
Wisconsin follows something called use-based assessment.
Property is assessed by how it is being used rather than
how it is zoned. Land that might be worth millions of
dollars as commercial real estate — which Pabst Farms
surely is — is assessed for tax purposes at agricultural
result is a huge discrepancy between the actual value of
the land and what the owners are paying in assessed
development has now seen five different administrations,
encountered several controversies and objections from
both residents and government officials.
2013, the Common Council rejected permits for a second
Kwik Trip on Highway 67, prompting the developers of
Pabst Farms to file a claim against the city that it was
hand-picking which retailers would be allowed at Pabst
council relented and rescinded the vote. The Kwik Trip
was built. Alderwoman Cathleen Slattery resigned her
seat on the council after emails obtained through an
open records request revealed questionable tactics and
the use of a private email address to communicate to
Shortly after that, a grassroots movement to reject a
deal that was apparently being worked up by the
developers for a Walmart and Sam’s Club formed and began
protesting the move.
time it was the developers who relented and promised —
for the time being — they would make no deal with
recently, Alderman Matt Rosek has brought attention to
Pabst Farms holding four liquor licenses, all of which
have gone unused for a decade.
has argued the licenses should have stronger municipal
regulations to limit how long a liquor license can be
held without it being put to use, so other entrepreneurs
or businesses can buy them.
Farms developer Peter Bell said he was traveling this
week, and was unable to comment on several aspects of
Pabst Farms. Previously, emails and phone messages have
previous interview, William Niemann, executive vice
president of Pabst Farms Development, Inc., said he is
positive about the future of the development. He said an
anchor store will be key in it gaining momentum.
Another rendering of a 2006 conceptual plan for the Pabst
Town Centre retail development.
TIMELINE OF A TIF
Planning for the development of Pabst Farms began in the
1990s by the
city of Oconomowoc and the then Town of Summit. A Tax
Incremental Financing District, or TIF, is used to
promote tax base expansion by financing public
improvements in an area. TIF #3 was established on Oct.
2, 2001. Below is a timeline of when improvements first
came onto the tax assessment roll.
2003, Summit Elementary School and YMCA at Pabst Farms
2004, Ace Precision (Pabst Farms); Kwik Trip, Waukesha
State Bank and Sherwin Williams (non-Pabst Farms, but
inside the TIF)
2005, Roundy’s Distribution Center (Pabst Farms); Bruno
Independent Living Aids (non-Pabst Farms)
2006, Pabst Farms Marketplace and Wisconsin
Harley-Davidson (Pabst Farms)
2007, M& I Bank, Hilton Garden Inn, Sentry Equipment
(Pabst Farms); Stein Garden & Gifts (non-Pabst Farms)
2008, ALDI, Oconomowoc Medical enter, Chili’s (non-Pabst
2009, Village Crossing condos, Staybridge Suites,
Fastenal (Pabst Farms)
2010, fire station (Pabst farms; Brennan’s (non-Pabst
2011, Two more Village Crossing condos (Pabst Farms);
Valley Road development including Jimmy John’s
2012, Village Crossing clubhouse (Pabst Farms)
2014, Lake Country Manufacturing