Suds in the park?
County officials working on the details of bringing beer gardens to parks


August 24, 2017

Rose Lauer, 4, of West Bend walks a trail with her siblings and friends near a shelter at Heritage Trails County Park in the town of Polk. Officials with Washington County are considering adding a beer garden to the area near the shelter to offset expenses.
John Ehlke/Daily News

New details are emerging from Washington County’s plan to establish a beer garden for area residents. Having found a vendor, the attention shifts to specifics regarding the venue, schedule and the revenue model officials will use to raise money to pay for park expenses.

Planning and Parks staff notified Public Works Committee members during Wednesday’s meeting they elected Raised Grain Brewery to service the beer gardens they are planning for several of the county parks, including Heritage Trails, Leonard J. Yahr and the Eisenbahn Trail.

Officials said they received few offers from the request for proposal they published to sell beer and opted to use the same vendor that Waukesha County uses.

“Recently, we had met with Waukesha County,” Parks Property Manager Eric Hyde said. “They had been doing a pilot (program) themselves with a local brewery from Waukesha County, Raised Grain Brewery. They have a van with a tap wagon and a tent.”

Reaching an agreement with the vendor is a step in what amounts to an important plan to make the parks system self-sustaining.

As part of priority-based budgeting, county officials have access to a fiscal health tool that tracks revenues and expenses and projects the divide into the future. The deficit is forecasted at $1.84 million for 2018, but it increases $8.5 million by 2021.

Supervisors identified what they believe is the appropriate role for county government, nearly all of which do not list parks programs as a priority. As a result, staff received a directive from supervisors to reduce the department’s reliance on the property tax levy.

Establishing a beer garden is one prong, along with vehicle parking stickers and naming rights and sponsorships, to generate revenue to offset costs.

According to Hyde’s PowerPoint presentation, the events are generally Thursdays and Fridays from 4-9 p.m. Company representatives want to expand the service to include Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the same times.

The weekend hours can vary, at times they may host the event from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

According to the accompanying committee report, Raised Grain operated pop-up beer gardens on a trial basis at three parks in the Waukesha system more than 26 times. Company personnel have a beer cooler with 10 taps and a van they use as the serving area.

They bring games and coordinate with local food trucks and caterers to provide the food while parks personnel are responsible for the electrical connection, garbage receptacles and picnic tables. Co-owner Nick Reistad wants to expand the service area and believes Washington County would be a good fit for their plans.

Washington County officials have considered Waukesha’s beer gardens a success, generating between $1,000$2,000 or more for each event.

The next steps involve finalizing the agreement, including the schedule, logistics and the revenue model the two parties can agree to because any proceeds collected by county staff from the event will go toward offsetting material and personnel costs for maintaining the parks system.

Hyde said parks officials are considering several proposals for collecting funds. One is to share in the beer revenues where the county would take a certain percentage of the sales. There are several methods, from collecting fees at the park entrance to directly charging the vendor for the beverage sales.

Both parties have surveyed the priority parks for the premium locations to host the event.

“Where would you put the porta potties along the Eisenbahn Trail? Because these people, after a couple of beers, would have to use the restroom,” Supervisor Michael Miller asked.

Hyde said they would try and collaborate with the city and retailers to provide that amenity.