National marketing strategy begins for Pabst Farms
Developer dangles prime sites to retailers, technology firms
By Steve Jagler, of SBT
Essentially, the Pabst Farms development along Interstate 94 in Oconomowoc will create a new city in southeastern Wisconsin.
That city will be a sprawling, upscale community of 6,000 to 10,000 people, replete with housing, stores, restaurants, hotels, business offices, a technology center, a hospital, a new elementary school and even a new YMCA.
Development of the $1 billion project will begin this fall, with the construction of single-family houses, ranging in price from $275,000 to $1 million.
Peter Bell, president of Pabst Farms Development LLC, is busy traveling around the country, attempting to lure prime retailers and technology companies to come to Oconomowoc. Ultimately, he hopes the project’s technology center will become the national or regional headquarters for a major technology company.
Bell was one of the featured speakers in the May 15 Marquette University Bell Chair Real Estate Symposium, "Real Estate Development – A Public/Private Joint Venture."
Bell discussed the progress of the Pabst Farms project in a recent interview with Small Business Times executive editor Steve Jagler. The following are excerpts from that interview.
SBT: What’s the latest and greatest news about Pabst Farms?
Bell: Well, probably the strongest thing we’re working on right now is on May 16 we leave for Las Vegas for the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) convention, and we’re going to present our design we’ve been working on for the retail, the Shops at Pabst Farms. We’ll try to get some feedback from the national retailers on how this is all going to work.
The Shops at Pabst Farms are going to be somewhere between 650,000 to 800,000 square feet of retail area, and it will be kind of a town center, a pedestrian-friendly, civic-involved shopping district. We hope to have an ice skating rink in the wintertime. We hope to have book sales and art sales for the community to be involved in, and it’s going to be like walking down an old main town street, with all new stores and new designs, most of which will be national tenants.
SBT: Do you have any commitments from any national tenants on the retail side of Pabst Farms yet?
Bell: We don’t have any hard commitments, because our design is just coming forward right now. We’re going to get some feedback on the design and make the appropriate adjustments.
SBT: What kind of retail tenants do you hope to attract? Are they smaller, niche retailers or big-box retailers?
Bell: In a shopping district like this, you’re going to get two or three larger-type tenants that could be in the 50,000-square-foot range, and then you’re going to get a lot of your national top tenants, both for soft goods and specialty uses, such as bookstores and record stores. You’re going to have a fine mix of restaurants at all levels. It will be the kind of place with a lot of benches, a lot of landscaping, where people can kind of spend several hours in the shopping experience.
SBT: Is it the intent for Pabst Farms to be place where people live, work and play at the same location, or is it the intent to be more of a destination?
Bell: We’re actually going to target both people. We want to include the people in Oconomowoc and the surrounding communities to be part of Pabst Farms. But there also will be a very strong marketing campaign to bring people to shop at Pabst Farms.
SBT: You mentioned the different municipalities. Are all of them on board now? Are all the pieces in place on the chessboard for Pabst Farms?
Bell: I think, obviously, all the approvals will have to go through for design and plan commissions and so forth, but conceptually, Pabst Farms is well received as a whole. As the residents of the area learn more about Pabst Farms in the meetings we go to, they begin to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, and that is really trying to build a community that is part of Oconomowoc, not separate from it.
SBT: With so many different uses of property, how is all of this going to be tied together?
Bell: Eppstein Uhen Architects — we are kind of using them as our master land planner. Pabst Farms has five different types of environments. One is called the Residences at Pabst Farms, the other is the Pabst Village Center. We also have the Shops at Pabst Farms and the Pabst Farms Business Park and Technology/Research Park.
Those five general areas are really five distinct developments themselves. What we’re trying, with the help of Eppstein Uhen, is to make sure that we keep continuity, architectural design, movement of traffic and quality throughout the whole thing.
SBT: How is the technology and research park coming along?
Bell: We currently believe we are one of the finalists for GE Medical IT. We would like to build something right in there that takes advantage of the fiber-optic line right along I-94 and takes advantages of the educational opportunities of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They’ve got great technical colleges in Waukesha, Madison and Milwaukee.
We think we can build a really unique and special technology park that you might see in Palo Alto or the Triangle in North Carolina.
SBT: So, are you and Bruce Behling of Strong Capital Management going to arm-wrestle then for GE Medical to relocate to your development sites? GE Medical is really being courted, isn’t it?
Bell: (Laughs) Oh, yeah. The Strong park is definitely the site GE is looking at, along with us and a few other sites in Milwaukee.
We like to think we can offer the unique location between Madison and Milwaukee. We have Crites Field out in Waukesha for private jets. Obviously, we have General Mitchell (International Airport) to bring in the general public.
Most important, we’re going to have a very open landscape in which to build something. And we’re going to make this the most well designed data-provider area that you can find through fiber optics.
SBT: Do you have any other prospective tenants for the technology and research park?
Bell: We’re just finishing the design of the research park, and we’ll be going to various trade shows throughout the country. Pabst Farms will be a national presentation development. We hope to attract businesses from outside the state of Wisconsin and bring new, high-quality, clean companies to the area.
SBT: Would you expect, that when it’s all said and done, there could be companies that will move their corporate headquarters into Pabst Farms?
Bell: I would see Pabst Farms easily being, if not a national headquarters location, certainly a regional headquarters location. There’s just a lot of quality of life Wisconsin offers. It’s lake country out here. There’s a lot to offer. You’ve got good schools, good living conditions. You’ve got a wide range of housing products. People who want to continue their education have a wide range of choices. I think when you compare that to other areas of the country, this is very affordable and a good value in the Midwest.
SBT: What kinds of hotels are in the equation for Pabst Farms?
Bell: Ideally speaking, we can see two, possibly three hotels at Pabst Farms. We would like to get a suites product for the businessman that might have a short stay but is looking for something a little upscale. We would like to have a more medium, family-priced product, and we might look at an extended stay product for some of our corporate customers who might have someone to stay for a week or two weeks for some kind of a project or something like that.
SBT: Now, to play the devil’s advocate ….
Bell: No devils here!
SBT: The person who drives from Milwaukee to Madison, looks out from the freeway at the beautiful, natural Pabst Farms site and says, "Why can’t that just stay green?" You’ve had some opposition. Is that quieting down?
Bell: Not only is it quieting down, but when people have had the opportunity to see the plan and what we’re planning to do with the amount of open space …. If Pabst Farms had been developed by multiple developers, or if the Pabst family had not wanted to keep it intact, you would not have ended up with 300 acres of open space. You wouldn’t have had the symmetry of all these multiple developments fitting together.
My principles, my morals came from my dad. He taught me to be good stewards for the land, to build to the land, rather than on the land.
SBT: There was a $24 million TIF (tax incremental financing) district created for Pabst Farms. What do you say to critics who say the TIF law was created to encourage redevelopment of blighted, brownfield sites that otherwise wouldn’t have been developed? Pabst Farms certainly wouldn’t qualify as a blighted property. What do you say to people who believe there shouldn’t be any taxpayer support for this project, which is on the most valuable piece of real estate between Milwaukee and Madison?
Bell: Well I would first say that TIF doesn’t finance things. It gives opportunities to get better land planning done. It allows a developer to get a joint partnership with the city to do master land planning that would not otherwise be done.
Let’s just look at our five environments in Pabst Farms. If they were done by five different developers, you wouldn’t have had 300 acres of open space. You would have had 10% of that. Number two, they may or may not have had the same quality or architectural control. Three, you wouldn’t have had the symmetry or connectiveness of trying to build a city together.
And I think, when Pabst Farms is done, not only will it provide a tremendous tax base that you would not have otherwise gotten out there, but more important, you will have a land plan that really works within an exploding community in Waukesha County. I think that’s the real saving here. You get a master plan done on a very large parcel of land.
And $24 million is just a drop in the bucket to what we’re spending on Pabst Farms. This TIF has helped us to be able to do a better job. It will probably be three to five years before we see any economic returns from Pabst Farms to the ownership.
Our timetable is built off of patience and capital. My family has been doing this for over a century now, so we don’t think in terms of years, we think in terms of decades.
May 16, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee