Veterans Memorial Coliseum

The Dane County Veterans Memorial Coliseum would be among the facilities improved under a nearly $300 million master plan for the Alliant Energy Center campus.  

Dane County officials are regrouping after the state’s budget committee zeroed out $30 million meant to fund improvements and the expansion of Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall on the city’s south side.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called the omission “disappointing” and a “setback.”

Gov. Tony Evers included the measure in his capital budget, saying it would help transition the facility to a "full-service convention center for all of Wisconsin and the upper Midwest."

But the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee approved a budget June 11 without the Alliant Energy Center funding.  

“We were really counting on (the state) to be the anchor partner, the foundation upon which we could build a broader partnership to be able to fund this project,” Parisi said.  

Evers’ $30 million request would have helped fund a $77 million renovation and expansion of Exhibition Hall, outlined in a master plan for the 164-acre campus. Other elements would bring the total initial public building component to just over $90 million.

An additional $205 million would come from private investment for a hotel for Exhibition Hall, which would be converted into a full-service convention center with ballrooms and meeting space, according to the master plan.

The master plan outlines redevelopment in phases and prioritizes a ring road through the area to increase connectivity and green spaces.

Parisi said the state has partnered with Dane County in past efforts to improve the campus, including when former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson helped build Exhibition Hall and former Republican Gov. Scott Walker supported building two pavilions.

“The Alliant Energy Center certainly should be an issue that crosses partisan lines as well as county boundaries,” Parisi said.

Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said the state budget committee’s decision does not minimize the importance of investing in the Alliant Energy Center, which is located off of John Nolen Drive and Rimrock Road.

“This isn’t just about providing a space for people to have meetings. It provides economic energy to a part of Madison that really needs it,” Corrigan said. “We want to really be a part of helping all parts of the city rise as we look at the growth and energy in Madison.”

While the project will benefit Madison’s local economy, it will also have benefits for Dane County and the state, particularly in the agricultural community. The center hosts the World Dairy Expo and the Midwest Horse Fair.

“I’m disappointed that (the Joint Finance Committee) didn’t recognize the economic potential for the state as a whole by making this investment,” Corrigan said.

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Moving forward, Parisi said the county will try to convince the state to include funding for the Alliant Energy Center in the next biennial budget.

Meanwhile, the county’s Alliant Energy Center Redevelopment Committee is continuing its planning work. On Monday, the committee broke into small groups to brainstorm local tax funding options, corporate outreach and how to build countywide support.

“This committee is all the more important given what Joint Finance discussed,” Corrigan said.

The Joint Finance Committee took its final votes on the budget June 13, when it approved an income tax cut proposal and other initiatives.

The Legislature will review the budget next. GOP lawmakers have said they're looking to approve it before the end of this month. After it passes both houses, the budget would go to Evers, who could sign it, veto it outright or use his powerful partial veto pen to make changes to the language.

Briana Reilly contributed to this report.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.