Brown Deer — The Milwaukee County Parks Department has temporarily suspended its driving range expansion project at Brown Deer Park due to complaints about the partial closure of the park's circular roadway.
The Milwaukee County Parks Department introduced the project during a public meeting in March, which North Shore Now reported on.
County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb did not become aware of the project until more than a month later, when Urban Milwaukee contacted him for an article about it. Lipscomb and new County Supervisor Sequanna Taylor subsequently scheduled a town hall meeting for residents to 'weigh in on the Abele Administration's proposal.'
About 90 people attended the town hall meeting — some to criticize the project, and others to defend it. The bulk of the criticism centered around the closure of the roadway that bisects the two existing driving ranges. Vehicles coming from either end of the park will reach a dead end at the driving range, where a turnabout will be built for golfers to unload their clubs.
Resident Connie Collopy was one of several people who wanted the parks department to retain the circular roadway around the park, which was designed by Alfred Boerner in 1929.
'These two dead-end roads really change the essential quality of the park — coming in and turning around and going back,' said resident Connie Collopy. 'You're not going to see the whole park. You're not going to take time to go the other loop and come back. To me, it separates the park into two separate parks.'
On the other side of the issue, Brown Deer Men's Club member William Stace said he recently saw a car speed through the park at 50 mph. He said many people use the park as a shortcut from Teutonia Avenue to Range Line Road.
Bicyclists and pedestrians will still be able to make a full loop around the park, although they will have to go up a slight hill around the driving range, bringing them closer to the clubhouse.
The pitch for a new range
An expanded driving range has long been on Brown Deer Park's wish list, as the existing range only allows shots of 190 yards before balls get lost in the wooded area at the rear of the range.
Another driving range tee box was built farther back for the PGA tournament two decades ago. That tee box allows golfers to hit balls 245 yards to 300 yards, but golfers do not use that range for fear of hitting cars, walkers and bicyclists on the road in front of them.
By closing the roadway, the parks department will create an expanded range with 210 feet of width to accommodate 21 golfers and 80 feet of depth, ensuring golfers won't hit on the same patch of grass for 21 days. The existing driving range only accommodates seven to 10 golfers at a time.
Bob Cohn, president of the Brown Deer Men's Club, said Brown Deer Park needs a longer driving range to remain competitive in the golf industry.
'The revenue stream for the county is probably going to be immense once we get this project off the ground,' he said. 'I say that because I know members of our club who will not use the driving range. It's not sufficient. It's not what it needs to be for people who can hit 250 or 300 yards.'
Chet Hendrickson, the parks department's golf services manager, said Brown Deer Park's driving range revenue could increase from $25,000 to $65,000, which he said was a very conservative estimate.
At the first public meeting, Milwaukee County Parks Department Director John Dargle said half of the $100,000 project cost would be funded by Cardinal Stritch University's golf team.
The project estimate has since increased to $140,000, half of which will be funded through the parks department's matching amenities funds.
The other $70,000 will be funded through the Wisconsin PGA Junior Foundation, the Park People of Milwaukee County and a $50,000 annual user fee from Cardinal Stritch University's golf program. After the meeting, Dargle said the 'funding has not been clearly identified completely' at this time.
Several residents at the meeting questioned why new funds are going toward the expansion of the driving range when the roadway around the park is deteriorating.
'I don't ride my bike through here because the road is in dangerous condition,' resident Ellen Burmeister said. 'That is a bigger danger to people, I think, than a possible errant golf ball coming across.'
Jim Ciha, a landscape architect with the parks department, agrees the road is in poor shape. He said the parks department will ask the county board in 2018 and 2019 for funds to reconstruct the roadway.
'Certainly this (expanded driving range) could wait until that point in time when that money may become available, but I don't know if the private funds and the private people who are willing to step forward with the money now would still be willing to do that in 2018 and 2019.'
Dargle said he will ask Lipscomb and Taylor how they would like to proceed with the project, and whether or not they want to take the project before the full county board.