West Allis - Director of West Allis City Development John Stibal said he was frustrated that the idea of locating the $75 million new state crime lab at the Wisconsin State Fair Park was rejected before it could be thoroughly explored.
The city had put the idea forward for the exact spot where fair and state authorities had already approved a hotel about the same size as the crime lab. A hotel has since opened across the street.
Acknowledging that the crime lab would have been a shot in the arm mostly for West Allis, Stibal said he wished he could have explored the idea further with state fair officials to see if it could also have benefited the fair. An idea like this must work for everyone, he said.
Those meetings never took place.
Wisconsin State Fair Park Board Chairman John Yingling said last week that after consulting with West Allis Mayor Dan Devine, a member of the park board, he concluded that the hurdles are too high. The idea will not be brought up before the park board, Yingling said.
The two main hurdles are that it would be too hard to make the site available by the project deadline due to the cumbersome state procedures involved and that a crime lab has nothing to do with the fair, Yingling said. The other hurdles both involve loss of parking and parking revenue. While the fair might have been open to losing parking for a hotel, a crime lab is something else.
Devine echoed Stibal's view that the idea had not received a thorough sifting. He would like to have seen all the parties come together for a full discussion, rather than having the incomplete discussions that actually took place, Devine said.
But he emphasized, "It's not our land."
Still, when opportunities like this one come along, "You have to instantly start looking at what might be available," Devine said.
Stibal admitted, "I'm frustrated to lose such a golden opportunity." Those nine acres between Greenfield Avenue and the southern turn of the Milwaukee Mile race track are valuable, he said.
But looking forward the local officials agreed they would like West Allis to have a seat at the table as fair officials deliberate its future.
"I would still like to continue a dialog with the state fair on their vision for the future," Stibal said.
Plan for future
If there is any land the fair won't need, Stibal said he would like to help it explore long-term options.
"The city of West Allis stands ready and able to bring quality development," Devine said.
Stibal said the 150,000 square foot lab and offices seemed right for the already-approved hotel spot because the location would be so much in line with what the state wants for its new crime lab. The state wants the building to be on a bus line with regular bus service several times a day, have good freeway accessibility, that no buildings be razed and that the site not be a brownfield contaminated site.
The area eligible for the new crime lab is between Highway 164 in Waukesha County and 68th Street in Milwaukee County and between Hampton and College avenues. That includes parts of Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Brookfield, Waukesha, Pewaukee, Greenfield, New Berlin, Menomonee Falls, Hales Corners, Greendale, Butler and Elm Grove.