Downtown: The Madison Story

The Rise of the Urban Campus - What a difference a decade makes in UW–Madison’s financial and physical footprint on our city

Recently a friend was flying across the country and sitting next to the president of a Big Ten university. As they chatted the president expressed views that his own campus was an urban one but Madison was not. Now maybe he was blinded by the sun glinting off Paul Bunyan’s Axe at Camp Randall, but he and many others have not been very close observers of developments on the UW–Madison campus.
One of the big stories of the last decade has been the phenomenal growth of the city’s most significant institution in both dollars and land use. While the good work of the university to preserve its
natural heritage areas (like the lakeshore and Bascom Hill) has meant the main campus with 935 acres will have a leafy green future, UW also has been busy building an urban campus in the University Avenue and Johnson Street corridor. The language of cranes is spoken from Van Hise and Bascom, as any recent glances at the campus would show.

The new Ogg Hall, opened in 2007, is home to more than 600 students and has amenities including a
state-of-the art technology center, spacious lobby, first-floor game room, and multiple UW classrooms.

Part of this is the result of successful planning by both the city and the university. In the city’s South Campus plan adopted in the mid-1980s, it agreed the university could grow within a boundary set well south of Johnson Street, which set the stage for successful
“town-and-gown” cooperation on development. One outcome was the successful urban location for a basketball/hockey arena. The same plan detailed visions for medium-rise student housing near the university between Regent Street and the campus boundary.
A drive along Spring Street illustrates the success of this plan. College Court and other streets now have many new dense student housing units. The new Regent Neighborhood Plan adopted in 2008 carries this South Campus concept forward. Already, a new housing and mixed-use project has received city approvals for the old Josie’s site that will add another sixty-five units.
The Madison Plan Commission’s successful 2001 high-rise plan for the campus area closer to the Square has cleared the hurdles for another component of development. Recent projects for student housing include Grand Central, The Palisades, The Embassy, The Equinox, The Aberdeen, Promenade Place and Lucky—another 1,548 apartment units housing more than a thousand people. The $68,665,040 in construction costs for these has pumped many jobs into the Madison region.
While this urban development near the university is notable, the on-campus growth is even more so. In a worldwide knowledge economy UW–Madison is a top competitor. What are the indicators? Forget the magazine ratings. Nowadays, bright foreign students can choose
education almost anywhere, but they continue to bring their tuition dollars to Madison. Oh, and by the way, they bring their housing, food, book and entertainment dollars, too.
Add to that an even greater number of first-class students from around the country who come to the shores of Lake Mendota to invest their and their parents’ savings into our educational institution. They, too, bring ancillary dollars.
And yes, many bright Wisconsin students are educated here—to the point that competition for spots is fierce, which is why many start their education on another UW System campus—or Madison College—and transfer in after a year or two. In 2008–2009, UW–Madison tuition revenues totaled $350 million, exceeding the state’s general tax support of $300 million. (Federal support at nearly $700 million is the largest annual category. Gifts, grants and segregated funds total more than $450 million).
Besides the direct education attraction, UW–Madison is a major research institution, where cutting-edge knowledge is both discovered and then disseminated to students and the community at large. Here the muscular nature of the Madison campus is less well understood. In the last decade the campus has been among the top three institutions in the nation for attracting research dollars, at a level of $900 million annually. The budget for research among the academic missions is nearly twice that for instruction.
As a result we have a tremendous demand for academic and research buildings, as well as residential and commercial opportunities for growth on campus and off. In other words, we have the makings of an urban campus. Let’s take a quick look at the dimensions. Since the 2005 Campus Master Plan the UW has completed forty-five major construction projects at a capital cost of $981 million.
Currently there is approximately $1.4 billion more in capital projects in various phases of planning, design and construction. Twenty-eight are under construction and budgeted at a total cost of $636 million, eight are in the design phase and budgeted at $612 million, and five are in the planning phase for another $133 million.
An exciting development that’s just starting to take shape is the East Campus Gateway—a new arts and humanities
district that includes an expanded Chazen Museum of Art on the new pedestrian mall linking the Kohl Center to the lake. Other key components of this urban campus include the expanded School of Business, the rebuilt Engineering complex and the rapidly growing sciences associated with the former Ag campus. The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and the Union South facility—both under construction—will create another urban node for the campus with a major pedestrian link.
So while the badger is a natural woodland creature, he’s learning to domesticate a new urban environment.


Dick Wagner, a former member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, currently serves on the Board of Directors for Downtown Madison, Inc.




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