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The master plan for the Alliant Energy Center would transform the campus with hundreds of millions of dollars in new, private development — including hotels, restaurants, office space and housing — along with public spending on modifications to existing facilities.

The first phase could cost about $305 million in public and private funds to create a “village feel” on the 164-acre campus, according to a report released Friday to the Dane County committee charged with overseeing the redevelopment process.

The redevelopment would encourage those who have been presenting events at the venue to continue, while drawing in new users, County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan said. It also would create a gathering space for area residents and visitors.

Perkins+Will put together the master plan considering past county studies and data collected by contractors, including Hunden Strategic Partners. Hunden found the Alliant Center would begin losing money each year if the county didn’t make improvements to its Coliseum, Exhibition Hall and Arena because current users would find other more suitable or up-to-date facilities to host events. No significant changes were recommended for the New Holland Pavilions, which opened in 2014.

“If no investment is made, the (Alliant Energy Center) will become a fiscal drain,” the new report states.

The best return on investment, the reports says, would be an expansion of the Exhibition Hall to add exhibition space, various meeting rooms and two ballrooms to draw larger conferences. That would cost about $77.4 million just in its first phase.

“The heavier lift financially and yet the one that provides the most long-term benefit is the expansion of the Exhibition Hall,” the report states.

The first phase of the Exhibition Hall development would add 50,000 square feet to the main hall, which could also be subdivided into a 30,000-square-foot ballroom — an amenity conventions look for when choosing a location — before another dedicated ballroom is added in a later phase. An upper level would be built to hold meeting spaces that also could be subdivided, a concourse space and a new kitchen.

Other first steps the county should consider for the redevelopment, the report says, should focus on:

  • Beautifying the campus entrance area and increasing its functionality at a cost of $2.7 million.
  • Tearing down the aging Arena and building one at a different location on the campus at a cost of $7.2 million.
  • Building a ring road around the campus and modifying parking at a cost of $3.4 million.
  • A private mixed-use development including parking garages, retail, office space and housing at a cost of $126.4 million.
  • A private hotel with 300 rooms to directly serve the Exhibition Hall at a cost of $89.3 million.

Private developments would front Rimrock Road and John Nolen Drive with parking obscured from street view by the buildings. At the center of the campus, where the Arena currently sits, an open plaza with green space would be created as a resting or gathering place with public art and landscaping.

Large canopy trees would be clustered near parking lots to provide shade and combat the heating effects of paved areas. Landscaped areas and more porous paving materials such as cobblestone or brick would absorb stormwater and prevent runoff into lakes.

A major component of the master plan is a push to build hotels on the campus so visitors can stay closer to the event spaces, along with restaurants and shops for those staying at the hotels and others coming to the campus.

Committee members have long believed that more hotel rooms within a walkable distance to event spaces are needed, Corrigan said. Clarion Suites currently has an agreement with the county to be the only hotel operator on the campus until it begins to regularly fill a high percentage of its rooms, at which point new hotel brands could operate on the campus as well. Corrigan said the hotel is nearing that capacity.

The report recommends working with a well-known hotel brand to construct a 300-room hotel with various amenities and its own conference space near the Exhibition Hall, making travel between the hotel and events easier. A smaller, 180-room hotel on the campus is also recommended.

The Coliseum, which had previously been considered for demolition and rebuilding, would cost less to update, according to the report, but would be less likely to see substantial revenue or economic impact increases compared to the Exhibition Hall. Options for updates to the Coliseum are included in the report, but can be done at any time money is available.

Coliseum users would benefit from upgraded loading docks with canopies and new locker rooms and dressing rooms, the report says, which would cost about $3 million.

A second phase of redevelopment of the Coliseum would cost significantly more — costs for other phases were not specified — but would benefit event spectators by renovating the entrances and concourses on each level to make space for more and expanded restrooms, vendor carts and concession stands. Seating on the south end of the Coliseum would also be improved to create better sight lines for sports events or concerts and better club amenity space.

A third phase would update lighting, ceilings and paint to match the expanded concourses to create a cohesive look throughout the Coliseum. A fourth would add new seating and better audio and visual equipment to “create a seating bowl that feels like a new building,” according to the report. A fifth phase would update existing locker rooms and office spaces.

Many of the redevelopment plans or suggestions have costly price tags, but Corrigan said the ideas and plans had to be settled before financing decisions were made.

“The financing of that is the next step,” Corrigan said. “We wanted to get a master plan down first and foremost.”

Corrigan said the county would use tax dollars for the project but would also work to secure private funding through sponsorship or naming-rights deals and state funding. To encourage private development, the county could also seek the creation of a tax incremental financing district once the land from the Alliant Center, which is in the town of Madison, is annexed by the city of Madison in the coming years.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.