Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Whither Regionalism and New Berlin's Conference Center?

The New Berlin plan commission Monday night, by a 5-1 vote, gave that city's first approval for the Deer Creek conference center that will include the fourth-largest hotel in Wisconsin and the largest water park in southeastern Wisconsin.

Located west of the Great Lakes basin boundary, the project will be sited in the political and geographic center of regional concerns - - at least I thought they were regional concerns - - about how best to manage job creation, water use, transit extensions and dwindling open space in southeastern Wisconsin and beyond.

The complex will require an estimated 1.1 million gallons of water per month, accelerating either New Berlin's effort to pipe Lake Michigan water to the Deer Creek site or putting additional pressure on regional wells.

Yet for all the talk in the greater Milwaukee area about the need for regional planning and decision-making, virtually none of the "Region First" lobby has suggested evaluating the project with regional benchmarks and goals.

Such as:

What will be the project's impact on the Midwest Convention Center in downtown Milwaukee, or the other major hotels and related businesses concentrated in Milwaukee's downtown?

What is the project's impact on the region's water supplies?

Will the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ask New Berlin to figure in the project's water needs, along with the collateral development it will spawn, when it asks New Berlin to rewrite the city's flawed 2006 Lake Michigan diversion application?

How will the project's induced traffic affect regional road building, as transportation budgets include contributions far from New Berlin's municipal borders?

Does New Berlin have a plan for including Milwaukee workers in the project, since they make up the lion's share of the region's unemployed?

Will employee transit, hiring and training be included as the project moves forward, and will those same matters be added to all the current and coming (read: The City of Waukesha) applications and discussions about diverting Lake Michigan water to keep spurring suburban growth west of Milwaukee?

The Deer Creek project has grown in size and complexity beyond earlier drafts. Green elements have been added, and that's to the good.

Yet the project has escaped any genuine regional analysis, with only Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy in government circles raising questions about Deer Creek outside New Berlin.

Will other Milwaukee officials, regional office-holders or private sector interests discuss this project in its proper, larger context, and therefore put more substance into the regionalism debate?

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