Hotel campus concept floated for Brookfield

President Bill Russ urges residents to keep an open mind on plan for a new village hall and "inn" linked to zoo.

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By BOB UPHUES

An Oak Park architect has approached the Village of Brookfield with a concept that envisions transforming the current village hall site into a mixed-use campus complex that would link downtown Brookfield with the Brookfield Zoo.

Errol Kirsch, known predominantly in Oak Park as an architect for residential projects, told the village board Monday night that he has garnered the "sincere interest, but no commitment from a large hotel chain" to explore the development of a complex that might include any number of elements.

The centerpiece of the project calls for replacing the current village hall with a two- to three-story "village inn" of 80 to 100 rooms, with accompanying commercial property to service guests of the inn.

A footpath, elevated above the flood plain, would meander along Salt Creek to the north, connecting it with Brookfield Zoo and giving downtown Brookfield a long-sought-after link between Brookfield's business district and a national tourist attraction. Any inn would also provide transportation to the zoo, Kirsch added.

"You have a green space that runs from 31st Street to Brookfield Avenue," Kirsch said. "That, coupled with Metra routes and its relationship to the zoo, makes this a natural alternative to enhance that area and restore it more thoroughly as you go northwards to the zoo."

While the entire village hall and village parking lot area is being considered for the project, Kirsch said that the Kiwanis Park ballfields and oak savanna area would be kept intact.

Just where the Brookfield village hall and police department would be relocated was not specifically spelled out. An earlier plan to build a municipal complex on the south side of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad tracks in South Kiwanis Park was ruled out Monday.

"We considered several locations, including South Kiwanis Park," Kirsch said. "But as the data came in, we found the difficulty of building in a floodplain to be prohibitive."

Another site considered for a new municipal complex included the Eight Corners area, according to Kirsch.

Village President Bill Russ, who has been working on the concept with Kirsch, along with Village Manager Dave Owen and Village Attorney Michael McGrath, threw out 47th Street or even the Ehlert Park area as possible alternatives.

But, Russ added, "Where village hall goes is the last thing to be considered."

Kirsch, however, made it clear that he favored building a new municipal complex as part of the overall "campus" on the north side of Brookfield Avenue just east of Salt Creek.

He also emphasized that the plan would not work well in another area of the village.

"It has to be here," he said. "There's the synergy of the site. ... There's a natural combination for mixed-use here."

Brookfield Zoo Director Stuart Strahl said that while the zoo does not have a financial interest in the concept, the zoo would likely be open to helping the village market an inn where zoo-goers might stay.

"If a hotel happens, it's a good destination for us," Strahl said, "and we market all over the Midwest. ... There are not a lot of places [tourists] necessarily want to stay at that are nearby."

Russ, while bearing the standard for the concept, cautioned residents against rushing to judgment on the concept, saying that Kirsch's presentation Monday night was "simply the start. Nothing here is a done deal.

"I ask everyone here to listen to Mr. Kirsch with an open mind," Russ added. "Do not start looking for reasons for why it won't work."

Kirsch said that he would like to meet with residents and community groups to get feedback on the concept, a process that could take up to six months. The development process and construction could take up to two years or more, he added.

Since the concept would involve the sale of village-owned property, the land sale would be subject to a public process, which in theory might not guarantee Kirsch the land.

But Kirsch said he was confident that any other bidders on the land would have to compete with months of planning he would have already done by that time.

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