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Beer garden concept will move forward in De Pere

By Lee Reinsch

DE PERE – Although it’s an idea that’s lager-than-life at the moment, a beer garden could soon be on tap for downtown De Pere’s cultural district.

Casey Nelson, alderman for District 4, floated the idea for a beer garden past the De Pere Board of Park Commissioners last week.

“The big push for the cultural district is to connect Wisconsin and Broadway to both Voyageur Park and the river, to get more foot traffic downtown,” Nelson said.

Nelson came to the area from Milwaukee, where he experienced the Estabrook Beer Garden on the Milwaukee River, which opened in 2012 as the first of its kind in the country.

Estabrook brought almost $1 million in revenue in to the Milwaukee County Parks Department the following year.
Milwaukee’s Estabrook Beer Garden started with a single garden open for a few hours a week to five separate beer gardens in five parks, open from May to October seven days a week.

Nelson said he envisions a De Pere beer garden as a family-oriented community spot, a place to unwind and relax.

“On a Saturday when there’s nothing else going on, you would just go to the park and sit by the water, hang out and enjoy a beverage,” Nelson said.

The beer garden area would have large picnic tables and seating areas, and seats wouldn’t be reserved.

“People just go and mingle with their friends and neighbors,” he said.

Estabrook has been such a hit that two traveling beer gardens have sprung up out of the concept.

The traveling beer gardens tour Milwaukee, visiting parks that don’t have beer gardens.

De Pere as well could create a traveling beer garden, Nelson said.

Parks Commissioner Sue Schinkten asked if a beer garden wouldn’t take away business from local taverns.

“The quick answer would be that our goal would be to cooperate with the local bars and breweries,” said De Pere Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Marty Kosobucki. “Our goal at the city is certainly not to take away business, but to enhance what is already here, and I think there’s a way to do that.”

De Pere establishments, present and future, might serve drinks and refreshments.

“We want to create incentives to get businesses to locate here downtown,” Nelson said. “I thought this could be a good combination to get a small microbrewery downtown that would have a built-in incentive” to be involved, Nelson said.

Alderman Ryan Jennings said he thought it was a great proposal but expressed concern about it taking people away from the downtown.

“I’ve not seen other festivals at Voyageur Park draw people from the festival into the downtown area,” he said. “But the traveling beer garden, I support.”

As for whether it would involve building a permanent structure, Nelson said that’s something they’d need to research.

Some beer gardens have permanent buildings while others have trailer-type structures, he said.

“It would be a question that would need to be fleshed out as we go forward,” Nelson said, adding that tying a beer garden project in with repairs to the Voyageur Park restrooms would be a good idea.

The board told Nelson it would be open to further information and gave Nelson the go-ahead to move forward with investigating a beer garden’s feasibility, looking into such issues as ordinances, sites, possible permanent structures and licensing.

Schinkten suggested also reaching out to tavern owners, possibly with a focus group, to get their input.
Nelson said he thinks a beer garden would be positive on three fronts.

“It’s a good way to directly benefit the park, raise revenue and make it more of a place to hang out,” Nelson said.

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