Designing Downtown

Madison’s beloved downtown is no accident, but it’s time for a new vision. Though strategic neighborhood plans have been well underway for years, the last time the city of Madison executed a downtown plan was in 1989. Last May, city officials began the official process of sculpting the next twenty years for downtown Madison based on the Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown Advisory Report.

A project that breaks ground this spring is the Lisa Link Park renovation on State Street, complete with a visitor center with food, an ATM, public restrooms and hosted park programming. Proposals addressing lake access include a possible overhaul of the Edgewater Hotel, where Wisconsin Avenue extends into a waterside grand plaza, as well as a potential site off John Nolen Drive near Machinery Row. Traditional entrances to the city, such as West and East Washington avenues, may morph into grand boulevards à la the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

“I think all of us understand that one of the great charms of Madison as a place to be in the last dozen years or so is that it does have a great little downtown, and that we shouldn’t take it for granted,” says city of Madison planning director Mark Olinger. “Great downtowns need work and constant care and attention, and DMI is one of the guardians of the vitality and dynamic nature of downtown.”

One major initiative is the downtown Madison library, now more than forty years old and in need of updating.

“We do need a new downtown library,” says Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. “It’s a worn facility, and we’ve really outgrown it as a community. The way people use libraries has changed as well.”

Competing are the Terrence Wall proposal, which would tear down the existing facility and rebuild on-site and includes ground-level retail, and the Fiore proposal, which would construct a second tower near the 222 building on West Washington, and construct a mixed-use hotel/office building in place of the old library. Both plans come in around $40 million, so a third $20 million remodel option may be the answer, albeit a temporary one.

“What we have to keep in mind is that whatever we do here is likely to be with us for the next generation,” says Cieslewicz. “If we decide to save some money in the short run by remodeling then that probably precludes a brand new building for another generation.”

In February, after a six-month renovation, University Research Park opened its Metro Innovation Center in the historic foundry building at 1245 E. Washington Ave. The new campus boasts a lighting-fast one-gigabyte data connection as part of the UW data network, voiceover IP telephone services, two state-of-the-art conference rooms and what many refer to as “green computing,” wherein tenants share servers rather than purchasing their own.

“It’s an incubator where we hope to accommodate emerging companies that use a lot of computational power or computer intensive companies,” says associate director of University Research Park Greg Hyer. “The city has a major push to revitalize the East Washington Corridor, and we are excited to be a part of it.”

Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.

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