Madison is moving to spend $3.9 million to transform a two-story building and property on Lake Monona next to Olin Park into a community amenity with Parks Division offices, recreational programming, meeting rooms and more public restrooms for park users.
In February 2019, seizing a rare opportunity, the city spent $5.5 million to buy the 3.65-acre shoreline property at 330 and 342 E. Lakeside St. from the Wisconsin Medical Society. The acquisition included nearly 450 feet of shoreline for public access to the lake and included the two-story, 43,000-square-foot office building and a parking lot.
“The property and building are envisioned as important parts of the larger vision of improved connection to, and access of, the Lake Monona waterfront,” parks superintendent Eric Knepp said.
The city evaluated the building for potential adaptive reuse, and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and others added a resolution to the 2021 capital budget to fund the improvements due to the building’s central location and physical characteristics.
“Once initial project work is completed, there would be additional public parking for Olin Park, increased access to restrooms within the park, additional public shoreline and recreational programming for the community,” Knepp said. “The longer-term vision includes enhanced community gathering spaces, support for outdoor events, natural area restoration and trail development and enhancements.”
The property sits at a key connection point in the park system, accessible by pedestrian and bike paths to other city parks. It’s also the keystone park property connecting Downtown to the South Side, Knepp said.
The initial phase of renovations is focused on making the building safe and accessible, Knepp said. The plan includes improvements to elevators and parking, a new fire suppression system, HVAC upgrades and restroom improvements, among other measures, he said.
The Parks Division is working with the city’s Office of Real Estate Services and a prospective tenant that provides adult and youth recreational programming consistent with the Division’s mission, Knepp said. The future tenant anticipates use of the west wing for offices and a variety of public recreational programs, he said.
The city intends to relocate most Parks Division offices and community service staff from the City-County Building to the building, which will help address a Downtown city office space shortage and better connect more Parks Division staff because many employees work at the nearby Goodman Maintenance Facility, 325 Olin Ave.
“It’s a good use of the building,” said Ald. Tag Evers, whose 13th District includes the site. “Moving Parks out of the City-County Building to Olin Park is a very nice move. So far people seem to welcome it.”
The estimated cost for the improvements at the Olin Park building is $3.95 million, a fiscal note from the city Finance Department says. Currently, the city anticipates $400,000 in direct contributions to the project from a tenant in the building, in addition to longer-term annual rental payments. The capital budget already includes $1.87 million for the project, and the proposed budget amendment transfers $1.76 million in existing spending from various other projects.
The city anticipates work to start this year, with completion of the first phase in 2022.
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 had contacted the city to discuss its interest, and the sides negotiated the sale price.
The city’s 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.
PHOTOS: SCENES FROM VILAS PARK