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Olin Park addition

Madison is moving to buy two properties that would add nearly 450 feet of shoreline to Olin Park, including the Wisconsin Medical Society headquarters and parking lot, above, for $5.5 million. The city would evaluate if the building could be incorporated into park use.

Pursuing a rare opportunity, Madison may soon spend $5.5 million to buy 3.65 acres of shoreline property on Lake Monona next to Olin Park.

Ald. Allen Arntsen, 13th District, who represents the site, two other council members and Mayor Paul Soglin on Tuesday will introduce a resolution to purchase properties at 330 and 342 E. Lakeside St. from the Wisconsin Medical Society.

The properties would add nearly 450 feet of shoreline for public access to the lake and provide expanded opportunities for recreational uses in heavily used Olin Park, the resolution says.

The property is currently improved, with a two-story, 41,026-square-foot office building and a surface parking lot. The city intends to evaluate the structure for possible reuse.

“The acquisition of lakefront property by the city is rare,” parks superintendent Eric Knepp said. “The Parks Division has successfully acquired a few individual lots of lakefront property to expand existing parks in the past decade — Merrill Springs and Esther Beach Parks — but it is very uncommon to have a 3.65-acre acquisition on the lake adjacent to an existing park. It is also uncommon to be able to make this investment without tax dollars.”

To pay for the purchase, the city would tap its citywide Parkland Impact Fee District, a fund established for payments from new residential developments that do not dedicate parkland as a part of their projects. The fund currently stands at $12.5 million.

The city has long eyed the property as an addition to its parkland holdings and has held a first right of refusal to buy it since 1996, when the city purchased adjacent land from the medical society. The society contacted the city to discuss its interest, and the sides have been negotiating for the past few months, Knepp said.

Lakeside land purchase

The new city Comprehensive Plan and Park and Open Space plans, both adopted in 2018, identify the site as parkland and say the city should try to improve access to the city’s lakes.

“It’s a pretty special site,” Arntsen said. The acquisition “is great for the city, whether to expand Olin Park, continue a connection to Law Park or simply to increase parkland with lake frontage in central/south Madison.”

The medical society acquired the property in 1955 and began construction on an initial structure there that year with additions in the late 1960s and 1990s, said Dr. Bud Chumbley, chief executive officer.

The medical society has long envisioned following its initial sale to the city decades ago with a sale of its headquarters property to the city for more parkland, and now that the building is far larger than the society’s needs, it’s time to make the transaction, Chumbley said. The society did not list the property for sale on the market, he said.

“It’s hard to acquire lakefront property,” he said. “We want the property to accrue to the benefit of the citizens of Madison.”

The society intends to stay in Madison close to the Capitol and is looking at alternative sites, Chumbley said.

The Parks Division must now determine how the acquisition fits in with an adjacent, 10-acre piece of Olin Park to the immediate northwest, and the 101.4-acre remainder of the park and Turville Point Conservation Park to the southeast.

The smaller piece to the northwest is managed as open park space for mowed turf, no-mow meadows, and shorelines, Knepp said. The area is occasionally used for events but is mostly used as a passive recreational area by individuals or small groups, he said.

The city did some planning for that area years ago, but nothing has been adopted, Knepp said. The Parks Division expects that with the acquisition of the two new parcels a review of the area’s master plan would happen in the next 10 years, he said. Until that time, the new holdings would be managed in a similar manner to the adjacent, existing northwestern end of Olin Park, he said.

The Parks Division will work with other city agencies over coming months to evaluate the condition of the medical society building and parking facilities, Knepp said, adding, “It is premature to say what makes the most sense for the city at this time.”

As part of the real estate transaction, the parcels would be converted to Parks and Rec zoning, which would play an important role in deciding any potential use of the facilities, he said.

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Wisconsin Medical Society propeties

The city's effort to buy property from the Wisconsin Medical Society along Lake Monona includes a two-story building and a parking lot.

Potential future uses of the acquired property would seek to benefit the park system and include significant public engagement and a detailed analysis of needs, Knepp said.

“What we know at this time is that they aren’t making new lakefront parks, so this is a once-in-a-generation — or forever — opportunity,” he said.

The city’s $5.5 million purchase price, about 10 percent over the appraised value, was reviewed and approved by the city’s Office of Real Estate Services, the resolution says.

The purchase price is based on a fair market value appraisal that takes into account the city’s right of first refusal, Knepp said. “The location, size, zoning, and existing improvements are all factors that support the appraised value,” he said.

The purchase would allow the medical society to lease back the property for a time so it can relocate to another site, with the expectation that existing uses would finish by the end of the year.

If the acquisition goes through, the city is also interested in private properties to the Southeast over the long term and would communicate with the property owners about the city’s interest, goals and timeline in that area, consistent with the most recently adopted Comprehensive Plan, Knepp said.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.