The Opposite of Nothing

Is the 100 Block of State Street the next Edgewater?

I have a general opinion about the Edgewater debate-slash-debacle. I wanted a spruced up hotel restored to its former glory and worthy of the prime downtown real estate on which it sits. I thought the public plaza, with an ice rink in winter, would be a draw for students, locals and visitors alike—our very own Rockefeller Center! Instead, what we have today is not the revitalized gem it should be.

When I got wind of the proposed redevelopment of the 100 block of State Street, I was eager to support it for reasons similar to the Edgewater’s appeal. I was moved by the idea that the funky vibe on State Street would stay the same while the insides of all those dilapidated buildings would be carefully restored. New stores and restaurants will thrive, and office spaces upstairs will woo companies to relocate downtown—a high-quality, urban alternative to the shabby apartment rentals there now.

Unlike the Edgewater, there’s an odd dichotomy to the 100 Block Foundation Project, which encompasses six buildings on the triangular block of State, Fairchild and Mifflin streets. By and large, people seem to like the State Street plan to refresh and refurbish—especially since the developers acquiesced to early pressure to save the historic Castle and Doyle building. But the Fairchild and Mifflin plans involve demolishing two buildings, one a designated landmark, and replacing them with an outdoor garden and restaurant. Reaction to this is mixed. It’s sort of a tale of two projects—State Street is more or less a go; Fairchild/Mifflin is being challenged by the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. They’ve presented an alternative vision, though no one has stepped up to fund it.

On the one side you’ve got the developers, none other than Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, the patrons of arts and culture who’ve brought us, among other things, Overture Center, Concerts on the Square and the Madison Children’s Museum. Their vision for the 100 block is three-fold: preserve State Street’s character; transform Fairchild into an active and aesthetically pleasing corridor, which they say has never lived up to its potential; and provide municipal and philanthropic support. This last aim is where it gets really interesting.

In terms of municipal aid, the privately financed venture assures a strong tax base well into the future. Edgewater fell on the public dollar’s sword, also known as TIF, or tax incremental financing. Incoming austerity Mayor Soglin summarily rejected the deal outgoing Mayor Dave brokered with developer Bob Dunn, who claimed to need a government subsidy to move forward. And then there was the pesky lawsuit filed by downtown resident, attorney and landowner Fred Mohs that killed what was left of the project’s momentum.

In stark contrast, the 100 Block Foundation already owns the properties and the millions they’ll spend on them won’t end up costing taxpayers a dime. On top of that, all operating profits from the retail and office space plus the restaurant will go to Overture Center in perpetuity.

Wait, what’s that? Jerry and Pleasant would donate an estimated $200,000 annually to the financially strapped arts venue next door? Yes.

That’s generous, but what about the Fairchild piece—is the new space truly meant to enhance the dowdy block, to complement the new library and the recently announced museum complex on Mifflin? Yes.

C’mon, really? Doesn’t it seem a bit vain, given the fact that the new building is limestone and glass, just like Overture, and the view from Overture will get a whole lot better? Maybe, but it’s their legacy.

You mean there’s no anti-preservationist ulterior motive? Nope. (They’ve offered to help move the landmark building. Any takers?)

OK. But what if, after all this, the city rejects the proposal? What will happen to the idea of a vibrant State Street artery similar to, say, King Street, which came bursting back to life thanks to neighborhood support of business reinvestment. Or the Pinckney/ Hamilton/Mifflin corner, now a flourishing area thanks to the Children’s Museum, Capitol Point condos and the renovated YWCA?

In all seriousness: What happens next?

Nothing.

Just like the Edgewater.

Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or bnardi@madisonmagazine.com. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

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