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Crossfit at Alliant

People walk around the grounds of the Alliant Energy Center during the CrossFit Games. 

Final recommendations for the Alliant Energy Center envision a destination campus on Madison’s south side that will meet the needs of those using facilities on the 164-acre campus, draw in Dane County residents all year and, ultimately, serve as a gateway to the city.

Perkins+Will created the final master plan, which includes redevelopment in phases and prioritizes a ring road through the campus to increase connectivity, green linkages and reinforcing the central campus.

Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said the plan could be a “game changer” for Madison and Dane County

“Reinforcing the heart of the campus and making it more walkable, dense, you feel like you have a sense of place in it,” Corrigan said. “That’s a really good way to feel like the campus is something you could come to not just for a specific event.”

The first phase, which is estimated to cost about $300 million in public and private investment, would begin by expanding the Exhibition Hall and includes private development such as a 180-room hotel, residential, retail and office space in addition parking.

The master plan also recommends:

  • Removing the existing Arena building and constructing a new arena on the west end of Fairgrounds Drive at an estimated cost of $7.2 million.
  • Constructing a new $2.7 million gateway plaza with a flexible design and pedestrian amenities like landscaping, lighting, seating and decorative pavements.
  • Building a $3.4 million ring road around the campus and adding parking.
  • A $126.4 million private development that includes the hotel, residential, office and retail space, and a parking ramp.

The plan envisions private development facing John Nolen Drive and Rimrock Road and an open area in the center of campus would feature green space and a place to gather. The private development is meant to maintain the “vibrancy” of the campus all year, Corrigan said.

Simultaneously, the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, Madison, Dane County, Madison Gas & Electric and the Alliant Energy Corporation are creating recommendations for a destination district.

Deb Archer, president and CEO of the GMCVB said the campus is currently isolated and the challenge is to strategize how to “make the campus breathe into the community and breathe back so that there is a sense of connection.”

“We think it’s very critical to look at the destination district with the Alliant Energy Center in the center,” Archer said.

According to the master plan, the Alliant Energy Center is at a “crossroads.” If the county does nothing, the plan states that the campus and facilities will become less able to compete for events.

Corrigan said that for some time, the county has operated from the mindset of spending “as little as possible” on the center. Though renovations to the Coliseum’s facilities and the New Holland Pavilions have been productive, she said more investment — and space for events — is needed.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Corrigan said. “We’re going to lose events to other places. Not only in Wisconsin but around the country, we’re seeing investments into these kinds of facilities and people will bypass Madison if we don’t take the time and energy to invest into the campus.”

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi cautioned that “somebody has to pay for it.” He said it is a “worthwhile investment” to look at more incremental improvements at the Coliseum and investigate the possibility of renovating Exhibition Hall.

“We have to weigh that investment versus lakes clean up, versus affordable housing, versus homeless resources,” Parisi said. “There are always more needs than there are resources. If we take a very deliberate approach, we can look at making improvements in a way that doesn’t break the bank.”

The Alliant Energy Center Comprehensive Master Plan Oversight Committee will take up the master plan at its meeting Monday at 3 p.m. in the Alliant Energy Center Conference Room at 1919 Alliant Energy Center Way.

Securing funding is the next step, Corrigan said. Possible options include partnerships with other municipalities and the state or creating a taxing district. She plans to introduce a resolution to the County Board that would continue the work of the overview committee with a new focus on implementation.

She hopes work can begin on Exhibition hall in the next five years.

“It’s what we need as a county need to do to stay competitive in the market,” Corrigan said. “It’s a great opportunity for the county and the city, our community.”

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Exhibition Hall

Renovating the Exhibition Hall would be a “heavier lift financially,” estimated at $77.4 million in the first phase, but create the best return on the county’s investment.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 creating a new dedicated 30,000-square-foot ballroom at the northern end of the facility and keep expanding the exhibit hall when demand levels justify it.

“Not only will the exhibitor and attendee capacity of the facility grow, but the quality, user experience and economic impact of events will all improve,” the report states.

The proposed improvements to Exhibition Hall would improve profitability for the county, Deb Archer, president and CEO of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau said.

“There are not a lot of other facilities that have that sort of space,” Archer said.

Improvements to the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum are recommended on an ongoing basis to improve the overall user experience.


Dane County Veteran's Memorial Coliseum on the Alliant Energy Center campus

“There’s still needs for change in the Coliseum, but we’re not going to make any money off of those changes right now,” Corrigan said. “What we need to do is look at where we can make money.”

Phased improvements at the Coliseum as recommended in the report include upgrading loading docks, locker rooms and dressing rooms, improving entrances and the concourses, and updating lighting, ceilings, seating and audio equipment.

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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.