Every two years whenever there’s a contested election in Brookfield – which had been always until the 2021 election – you could set your watch to the times challengers would wag a finger at incumbents and say, “The village isn’t doing anything to promote economic development in Brookfield.”
Of course, many businesses have come and gone through the years and some have come and stayed for decades. It’s true that there are areas of the village where vacancies and blighted properties continue to be sore spots.
No one likes looking at a gravel lot where years ago a building once stood. No one likes seeing papered-over windows year after year on prominent storefronts in the downtown.
But Brookfield isn’t the only village where you will see these kinds of longstanding issues and anyone who’s elected quickly comes to understand just how little control municipalities have over the fate of private property.
Beyond code compliance, a municipality has little say in what a building can be used for, what businesses open or whether they’re redeveloped. One only needs to look as far as Riverside to see a building in the 300 block of East Burlington Street – derelict for nearly a decade after high hopes for its reclamation were dashed when its owner died.
People can hope for national chains on Ogden Avenue, but the village really has no power to make that happen. Traffic counts and demographics convince companies, not Facebook pleas.
Brookfield trustees earlier this month adopted a three-year economic development plan. Two key elements of that plan are hiring a staff person to directly manage those initiatives – the village really has never had such a person although it’s been rolled into job titles – and forming an advisory commission comprising people from the local business community.
While it may take some time for the staff position to be funded and a person identified, formation of the commission should happen in short order.
One key component of complaints about the village’s approach to economic development has been the feeling the village doesn’t do enough to make sure business that are already here are supported.
This new commission in a real sense envisions a partnership between the village and business community, where the two work on initiatives to both support existing businesses, attract new ones and create the right conditions for redevelopment.
By giving the local business community a more or less direct voice in village government, perhaps that will serve as a spark for creativity in approaching economic development.
But, hiring a staffer to serve as the direct link between village government and the commission is probably just as important, and we encourage the village board to find a way to fund it sooner rather than later.