The Landing, a beer garden area adjacent to the Tosa Pool at Hoyt Park in Wauwatosa, has become a family oriented gathering spot during its seven years of operation according to officials who operate the joint facilities. (Photo by Mike Ramczyk)

Hoyt Park in Tosa is a model of community-oriented family fun

By Mike Ramczyk

Correspondent

The Burlington Community Pool Board has done everything within its power to give kids a “normal” summer.

After coronavirus shutout students from classrooms, kept families bunkered at home and prevented even the most freewheeling, reckless socialite from hitting up the bars – or any business for that matter – a semblance of summer was saved by the Burlington Community Aquatic Center.

While other area community pools, including Elkhorn, Janesville and Kenosha, shut down for the summer due to fears of coronavirus, staffing issues and budget shortfalls, Burlington’s pool opened in mid-June.

Along with Wauwatosa’s Tosa Pool at Hoyt Park, the two venues are among the only public pools open in southeastern Wisconsin.

What the two facilities have in common is that they are operated by volunteer boards and do not rely on taxpayer money for their operation.

Social distancing guidelines, extra sanitation and limits on the number of guests – specifically the prevention of non-residents from purchasing daily passes in Burlington – have effectively kept folks safe.

Pool Board and Burlington City Council member Bob Grandi said Tuesday night the pool still hopes to break even, with roughly five weeks of operation left, and he’s ecstatic the pool has largely remained COVID-free.

“We wanted to make sure to protect local citizens,” Grandi said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

“We have been very lucky that we have been able to give kids a summer. We just want to do what’s right for our neighbors.”

With the neighborhood surrounding Devor Park in mind, Grandi said, the Pool Board mailed letters to 100 households regarding the recent proposal of adding a patio where beer would be served to the existing Aquatic Center building, 394 Amanda Street.

The proposal was originally scheduled to be discussed by the City Council in early July, but the matter was tabled after some residents living near the park expressed concerns.

On Thursday, Aug. 6, neighbors are invited to come to Devor Park from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to learn about and voice their concerns for the proposal, which has already received approval from the City of Burlington Park Board.

“Before we go to council, we don’t want to move forward without an agreement with the neighbors,” Grandi said. “We’ve received quite a few phone calls from neighbors with concerns.”

But the Pool Board also has Aquatic Center members in mind, because more than a handful of adult members have expressed that they would like to be able to drink a beer or enjoy wine when they visit the park.

Grandi said members have said they want to be able to drink adult beverages, and the board tries to react to what members want.

“The board is currently re-evaluating the proposed patio and is looking forward to getting feedback from our neighbors,” Grandi said.

 

Another concession stand

While concessions including food and soda, ice cream and other summer treats and candy are available inside the swimming pool area, the proposed patio would utilize the current concession window outside of the building, on the east side, where a sidewalk leads to a playground to the left and tennis courts to the right.

Grandi said most of the concrete is already in place, while a minimal amount of extra concrete would be added.

There would be eight picnic tables outside of the concession window, and people would potentially gather after their swimming session before they return home.

“It’s not a bar,” Grandi stressed. “People won’t drive from the other side of town to go drink there.”

“There would be concession food, and we would partner with local breweries.”

Grandi said the board would go through all the steps to obtain a liquor license, one that only allows sales of beer and wine. No hard liquor would be served.

The Pool Board has proposed the patio be open from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s totally blocked from the pool and the kids,” Grandi said of the patio. “There is no entrance from the patio to the pool – that will not happen. It’s primarily for the neighbors.”

However, some of those neighbors are already on record against the proposal.

“The pool and park were meant to be for the recreation of our youth and families, not to serve as an extension of the local bars,” Burlington resident John Maltby wrote in a recent letter to this newspaper. “Our beautiful pool complex was designed and intended for the enjoyment of our families and our youth, not to serve as a local watering hole for beer drinkers. The intent was for families – FAMILIES – to enjoy together.”

 

Beer garden success

Friends of Hoyt Park Pool Communications Director Eric Schmitt stands outside the facility on Tuesday. He said the pool and adjacent beer garden complement each other without creating conflicts for users of either facility. (Photo by Mike Ramczyk)

Thirty-six miles and 45 minutes north, near Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, sits the Tosa Pool at Hoyt Park, a relatively large facility of summer fun, including an aquatic center, event hall and beer garden.

In 2003, the pool, which at the time was owned by Milwaukee County, closed due to lack of funding.

But thanks to the Friends of the Hoyt Park Pool, a volunteer organization similar to Burlington’s Pool Board, funds were raised in three years to reopen the pool at the historic site in 2011.

Communications Director Eric Schmitt told the Standard Press Tuesday at the pool the staff is required to wear masks, but lifeguards and guests have a choice to wear one.

Roughly 200 feet from the water, outside of a fence and on the opposite side of the building, sits “The Landing,” a large beer garden located in the middle of a bike trail.

The outdoor space has approximately 20 picnic tables, socially distanced this year, along with a stage area for live music.

Schmitt said the popular garden offers food and different local craft beers, and people can carry in their own food.

The community-based concept allows families to have picnics during “pool day.”

Opening at 3 p.m. on weekdays, he says the place is usually packed by 5:30 p.m.

No tables offer a view of the pool, and there is a concessions stand on the left side of the garden area.

“We’re a nonprofit, independent organization,” Schmitt said Tuesday. “We manage the pool and the beer garden.”

“This property is leased from Milwaukee County. The beer garden has been around quite awhile. The Tosa Pool, the Grand Hall, a rental space, and the Landing are our three separate entities.”

Friends of Hoyt Park and Pool Executive Director Kit Slawski said via email Tuesday night that the Landing was created in 2013 to add another revenue stream for pool operations and create a space to enhance vibrancy for the community.

The beer garden generates as much as $450,000 per year from food and beverage sales, with most coming from mid-May through October.

 

Relationships make neighborhood strong

“People of all ages come together and build the relationships that make our neighborhoods strong,” Slawski said. “Beer gardens are popular with families, as they are an affordable outdoor activity that encourages surrounding neighborhoods to come together, enjoy a simple concessions menu or bring a picnic, with beer and wine sales by the glass.”

“It’s also adjacent to the pool, and draws swimming families as they come and go. Groups celebrate birthdays, employee outings, anniversaries and other celebrations as well. We also have a basic set of rules and beer garden etiquette, including no carry-ins of alcohol, and hours of operation that ensure the beer garden closes prior to the park closing.”

Beer gardens are popular all over Milwaukee County, including Whitnall Park and several traveling facilities.

With as many as 2 million-plus residents, outdoor activities and parks succeed in the summer.

“We were also fortunate to have a model beer garden in Milwaukee, opened in Estabrook Park in 2012, that we were able to see the operation in a similar Milwaukee County Park and draw on the community atmosphere created there,” Slawsky said. “It was due to our success in the community with TOSA Pool and the history of beer gardens in Milwaukee that we had little opposition for our plan.”

Can the same atmosphere be duplicated in Burlington?

Could an already successful Burlington staple turn into a full-blown park experience, with options for kids and adults, all with the best interest of the community in mind?

Grandi said Burlington’s proposal is on a much smaller scale than Hoyt Park’s and is viewed by the Pool Board as a quality of life amenity that will appeal to young families. It would also create an additional revenue stream to help fund the operation of the Aquatic Center. There is no desire to create a space where alcohol is the main focus, he said.

To ready the complete version of this story see the July 30 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.