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Foot traffic brisk at Dairy Expo (copy) (copy)

The walkway between the pavilions, the Dane County Coliseum and the Exhibition Hall is always the busiest area during the five-day World Dairy Expo because it's the link to the cattle and trade shows as well as the parking lots located around the Alliant Energy Center grounds.

Gov. Tony Evers will propose spending $30 million to help fund the expansion of the Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall on Madison's south side, he announced Wednesday.

Evers will include the proposal in his first capital budget, set to be released in full next week. 

The expansion would help transition the facility to a "full-service convention center for all of Wisconsin and the upper Midwest," Evers said, adding that the project is expected to create 644 new jobs generating $670,000 per year in income taxes. 

"I’m excited to see this project move forward and I know it will add value to the entire state of Wisconsin," Evers said in a news conference.

The funds would come from a grant program that provides state bonding support for non-profit or local government projects with a statewide, public purpose.

Dane County officials commissioned a set of recommendations for the 164-acre Alliant Energy Center campus that were released by Perkins+Will in December. The master plan includes redevelopment in phases and prioritizes a ring road through the campus to increase connectivity, green linkages and reinforcing the central campus.

Expanding the Exhibition Hall is part of a $300 million first phase that would also include private development such as a 180-room hotel, residential, retail and office space in addition to parking. In total, the plan calls for a 196,000-square foot addition to the Exhibition Hall.

Local officials have warned that some level of change is needed in order for the campus to continue to compete for events. The campus hosts the annual World Dairy Expo and Dane County Fair and has become home to the CrossFit Games until at least 2021.

The cost to renovate the Exhibition Hall is estimated at $77.4 million in the first phase. The master plan recommends adding 50,000 square feet to the main hall, which could be divided into smaller ballrooms, a new kitchen and an extended public concourse.

Subsequent phases would create a new 30,000-square-foot ballroom at the northern end of the facility and continue to expand the exhibit hall when demand levels justify it.

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Additional funding for the project is expected to come from county tax dollars, operating revenues and private-sector partners. 

Urban League of Greater Madison CEO Ruben Anthony said the project could be a "game changer" for south Madison.

So often, south Madison is looked at as last and there’s not a lot of investment made here traditionally," Anthony said. "South Madison is the African-American enclave here in Madison, historically, so I'm really happy about this project being here and the governor and county leadership having the foresight to make something happen in this community."

The project wouldn't be possible without help from the state, said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

"This project … really is of great benefit and interest to Dane County, but it's a project that elevates the state. It really enables us to elevate our position as a global leader in convening in the ag world," said Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan.

Cap Times reporter Abigail Becker contributed to this story.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.