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Philosophers Grove

A police car parked next to Philosopher's Grove off the Capitol Square in Madison last fall. The city is considering design changes and adding programming in the area to address bad behaviors there.

With spring here, Madison is considering design changes and programming and taking other measures to address chronic behavior problems at the famed crossroads of State Street and Capitol Square.

A group of business and property owners in the area, Downtown Madison Inc. and the Madison Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) have been working with the city on changes to help curb drinking, fighting, abusive language, littering, drug dealing, prostitution and the use of alleys and doorways as toilets.

A proposal calls for removing 11 of 44 artistic granite stones from the area known as Philosopher’s Grove to create a more welcoming pedestrian connection between State Street and a cul de sac that leads to the Central Library and Overture Center on West Mifflin Street.

The plan also calls for placing movable planters at each end of the path and creating a seasonal bicycle corral in a parking space on West Mifflin Street. All 18 shade trees in the Philosopher’s Grove area would remain.

Also, the city would spend $25,000 to contract with the BID for an activities program and “place-making” efforts at Philosopher’s Grove and a performance stage on the 100 block of North Carroll Street.

The design changes and programming funds are moving through city committees — the Board of Estimates approved them Monday night — with the City Council expected to consider them on April 21.

Meanwhile, the city is encouraging more sidewalk cafes and food carts in the immediate area, continuing a police presence and recently brightened street lighting, officials said.

“It’s going to help,” Mayor Paul Soglin said of the design changes and programming. “But without appropriate law enforcement and a different way of dealing with the problems of alcohol and substance abuse, it will not be solved.”

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the area, said the more serious issues aren’t caused by the homeless but troublemakers who frequent the area. Open-air drug dealing is the most pressing problem, he said.

Verveer said he’s “optimistic” and sees “a tremendous amount of momentum” for the proposed multi-pronged approach.

The most controversial piece is the fate of the artistic stones and trees around Philosopher’s Grove. “This is a compromise,” Verveer said. “Some stakeholders think the physical changes don’t go far enough. Others don’t want anything removed.”

The design changes coupled with programming can make an impact, BID executive director Mary Carbine said. “They’re both things that are doable this spring and summer,” she said.

The BID will do private fundraising to enhance programming, including music, cultural events, recreation and games, arts and crafts and small-scale vending, she said.

The city, Verveer, said, is encouraging Myles Teddywedger’s and Ian’s Pizza, restaurants in the immediate area, to create more sidewalk cafe space to encourage public use of the area. Police have adopted a zero tolerance policy on illicit behavior, even issuing citations for public gambling, and making vigorous use of video surveillance, he said.

If the council approves, design changes could be made in May with programming starting in June.

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