Plans for hotel, convention center under review

By Dave Fidlin - Special to The Freeman

August 17, 2017

Brookfield officials are working out plans to redevelop (left) the closed Sears Auto Center and adjacent parking at Brookfield Square.
Freeman file photo

BROOKFIELD - Plans to redevelop a 9.5-acre parcel on the southernmost end of Brookfield Square are progressing, though specific details are still being fleshed out, according to municipal officials.

The Brookfield Common Council met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the proposed acquisition of the Sears Auto Center site and adjacent parking lots, where a combination hotel and conference center has been eyed.

In June, the city announced plans of purchasing the parcel from CBL and Associates, the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based property management firm that owns Brookfield Square.

During Tuesday's meeting, the council discussed with Dan Ertl, director of community development, a financial plan that could involve relocating a tax-incremental district to help fund project costs and associated improvements at and near the site.

Mayor Steve Ponto said the council did not take any action on the item following deliberations.

"The council adjourned in closed session," Ponto said. "This was really done to bring the council up to date on the economic arrangement."

When asked about a timeline for more specifics on the redevelopment plans, Ponto said no firm details are set in stone at this point.

"But we are moving along," Ponto said. "There are a lot of moving parts to this."

Based on his best-guess estimate, Ponto said, he believed some of the heavy lifting on the redevelopment plans could take place in the second half of 2018.

"That's probably the best guess timeline, based on where we're at right now," he said.

Ponto said the council likely would not act on the TID plan taken up in closed session this week until one important piece of the puzzle is put into place.

"We want to have a hotel partner lined up," Ponto said. "Having that long-term agreement in place will be important."

The arrangement, Ponto said, is complex, but he expressed optimism and said the city continues to move toward bringing the planned hotel and conference center to fruition.

Early this year, CBL purchased Sears, one of Brookfield Square's three longtime department store anchors, and its ancillary auto center through a leaseback agreement.

Illinois-based Sears Holdings Corporation, which owns the Sears and Kmart chains, received an upfront payment for the Sears space, which it had owned before the transaction. Moving forward, however, SHC has to make rent payments to CBL to maintain operations at the mall.

Financially strapped Sears Holdings has been closing scores of stores after years of declining sales and a changing retail climate.

While the main Sears department store continues operations at Brookfield Square, the company shuttered the auto center in June in one of several cost-cutting maneuvers this summer.