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Thiensville Village Park beer garden gains backing

One trustee argues it will take customers from area businesses

May 8, 2013

Thiensville - After a lengthy debate, a proposed beer garden at Village Park won conceptual approval from the Village Board, which met on Monday as a Committee of the Whole.

Trustees Rob Holyoke, David Lange, John Treffert, and Village President Van Mobley voted for the approval, while trustees Ron Heinritz and Ken Kucharski voted against. Heinritz said he couldn't vote for it without more information. Kucharski voiced concerns that Thiensville businesses, including his own Skippy's Sports Pub & Grub, would lose business to the beer garden, and that drinking in the park could harm public safety.

"I think it's a sad disregard to the established businesses and the younger families that expressed concern," Kucharski said of the vote. "I don't think it's a good fit for our park and our community."

Under a proposal assembled by Lange and Sprecher Brewing Company President Jeff Hamilton, the Glendale-based brewer would supply infrastructure like tables, chairs and umbrellas, along with management and bartenders. Sprecher would serve eight to 10 types of beer alongside soft drinks and light snack food, and would plan to host beer tasting events and seminars. The proposal says the beer garden would operate seven days a week, from 5-9 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, from mid-June to early fall. Sprecher would rent the Village Park "kitchen" building from the fire department, and contribute 15 percent of food and beverage profits to the Thiensville Business Renaissance Committee and fire department. According to the proposal, Sprecher would allocate roughly half of its southeastern Wisconsin radio advertising to the Thiensville beer garden.

Lange emphasized that Sprecher intends to work with local businesses with promotions meant to encourage beer garden patrons to eat at local restaurants and pubs. An important component of the proposal, said Lange, would be a fall review meant to measure the beer garden's impact on area businesses. The hope would be for beer garden traffic to boost sales in nearby businesses, he said, but a negative impact would end the experiment.

"This is the idea of expanding the pie," Lange said. "This is a reason for people to come to Thiensville. It's an upscale attraction, and if it hurts businesses, it won't fly."

Kucharksi said the majority of other business owners he has spoken with have opposed the idea.

"We're struggling in a poor economy," Kucharski said. "In talking with most of these places, they've been down in business over the last few years. I don't see how we can take another hit."

He commented that Estabrook Park, the site of a popular beer garden opened in 2012, can't be compared to Thiensville's park.

Yet, the four residents who addressed the board - all of whom favored the idea - based their claims on the merits of Estabrook, which they all experienced firsthand.

"The thing about it that so impressed me was that it was a way to be able to go outdoors and enjoy the weather. To meet new people and make friends, to see kids with their families playing games in the grass," Thiensville resident Linda Unkefer said. "It was a family thing, but I would much rather go to Village Park instead of down to Estabrook."

Trustees grappled with the idea of limiting the beer garden's hours, or even putting the whole proposal off until next year, before eventually giving their assent. Treffert made the motion, saying the village may not have another chance next year and should get in the game.

"If Sprecher doesn't do Thiensville, maybe it'll do Cedarburg," Treffert said. "This is big league."

Since the trustees were meeting as a committee of the whole, their approval amounts to a recommendation to the Village Board, which will have to later field and approve a detailed proposal before the beer garden could come to Thiensville.

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