The Madison City Council on Tuesday rejected putting $250,000 toward helping local businesses repair damage caused by looting and break-ins in the Downtown area at the end of May and start of June.
In a marathon nearly eight-hour meeting, the council also unanimously adopted a sweeping plan that will guide potentially $300 million in investment in the Oscar Mayer site and surrounding areas — with amendments that address some of residents' concerns by adding green space and decreasing traffic.
The council voted 14-6 to nix the $250,000 recovery program for businesses, as well as an associated $500,000 equity program aimed at supporting entrepreneurs of color in the city.
Council members said they wanted to wait to reconsider the program to help entrepreneurs of color. That program and the recovery program were tied together after some criticized an initial version of the recovery program for focusing too much on State Street and not enough on Madison's Black community.
Last-minute changes Tuesday expanded the availability of recovery funds to businesses located anywhere in the city. But that modification did not substantially change the program since most of the businesses damaged during the looting are Downtown.
Ald. Rebecca Kemble, 18th District, said the equity program was not enough to get her on board with putting money toward Downtown, which she called "the whitest neighborhood in the city." She said the area already receives the most resources from the city, and the city should instead be focusing on investing in its Black community.
"This is quite literally institutional racism," Kemble said of the focus on Downtown businesses.
While there are business owners of color on State Street, none of them are Black, Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison, Inc., acknowledged. Ilstrup said the equity program paired with the recovery funds would allow the city to rebuild Downtown and "correct the errors of the past."
"We can create a city center where everyone feels welcome," Ilstrup said.
But Ald. Max Prestigiacomo, 8th District, said a vote for the recovery program would be valuing "property over human lives."
State Street business owners, however, said they needed the city's help after barely making it through temporary closings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then costly damages because of the looting. Many said they might not reopen.
The recovery program would have allowed local small businesses and property owners to apply for reimbursement grants of up to $25,000 for window replacement or other repairs, or to pay for insurance deductibles.
Miar Maktabi, owner of the Dubai Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar on State Street and a Syrian immigrant, said his business sustained $39,000 in damage in one week. He pleaded with the city for help.
"You guys are burying us," Maktabi said.
Ald. Tag Evers, 13th District, said the city should call on the business community to raise money to help the struggling businesses on State Street.
Alds. Paul Skidmore, Michael Tierney, Mike Verveer, Samba Baldeh, Sheri Carter and Barbara Harrington-McKinney voted against rejecting the recovery and equity programs.
The Oscar Mayer Special Area Plan envisions housing, commercial and industrial spaces, a preserved wetland and park, new roads and more pedestrian-friendly trails.
Individual projects will still go through a city approval process, but the plan provides a framework for revitalizing the 72-acre site that connects the North and East Sides of Madison.
Several residents spoke against the Oscar Mayer plan at Tuesday’s meeting, citing their desire for the city to preserve the entire 31 acres of the wetlands on the Hartmeyer property, keep traffic from the site off of Coolidge Street and remove a planned Metro Transit bus garage from the site.
Catie Shannon said the city should delay the plan to take a “deep dive” into those areas. “We hope you take our concerns to heart,” she said.
Ald. Syed Abbas, 12th District, proposed a series of amendments to address many of the concerns. He tried expanding the acreage of the park to the full 31 acres, but that amendment failed because it would have required a loss of too many housing units.
Resident Adam Pagenkopf and others said given the housing crisis in Madison, the wetland space is needed for more housing developments.
"We should really prioritize people over green space," Pagenkopf said.
On a 11-7 vote, council members voted in support of increasing the park space from 14 to 16 acres, which did not require reducing the number of potential housing units.
Other adopted amendments included restricting Coolidge Street to bikes and pedestrians only, prioritizing environmentally sustainable development practices, and adding language to have the city focus on racial equity and preventing resident exposure to potentially toxic chemicals at the industrial site. Relocating the bus garage was not included.
School resource officers
Also Tuesday, the council voted 19-1 to terminate the city’s contract with the Madison School District to provide police officers for Madison’s four main high schools. The four former school resource officers, or SROs, have been reassigned to patrol.
The district voted June 29 to end the SRO contract, amid pressure from residents opposed to having police in schools.
In contrast, the Middleton City Council voted Tuesday to reconsider its earlier decision to cancel its own SRO contract with the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. The council delayed a final decision to give the district the opportunity to amend the contract.
Opponents of SROs have noted that Black students are disproportionately cited and arrested in school, while supporters say having police in schools provides protection from active shooters and builds relationships between students and law enforcement.
Skidmore was the only Madison council member to vote against terminating the contract.
The termination of the city’s SRO program results in a budget shortfall of more than $200,000 for the police department.
In other business, the council unanimously approved the Commercial Ownership Assistance Program, which creates a forgivable loan fund focused on providing support for business owners who are people of color. The $500,000 pilot program will lend business owners up to $250,000 for a down payment on a commercial property.
State Journal reporter Shanzeh Ahmad contributed to this report.