It’s crunch time for what could be Downtown Madison’s most significant development since the Overture Center and one of the biggest private-public partnerships in city history.
Exact Sciences, the innovative biotechnology company with a rapidly increasing $35 million payroll, is approaching its deadline — and, we hope, a final deal with the city — to get this done.
We’re rooting for city and company officials to pull this off in a timely and responsible way that properly balances public investment with the project’s huge potential for public good.
It’s not do or die. Madison and the region will win no matter where Exact Sciences decides to expand in the area. If Downtown doesn’t work, the company could expand in the University Research Park on the West Side, where it now has corporate offices. Neighboring Fitchburg also would love to lure the company’s growth its way.
But the Downtown location holds by far the most promise. Imagine what 400 employees, with many more to come, making an average of $90,000 a year would do for the strength and allure of the city’s center. A lot of that money would be spent in Downtown shops, restaurants, housing and services.
The $202 million proposal for Judge Doyle Square, just south of the Capitol Square, also would definitively brand Madison as a thriving high-tech hub, encouraging similar entrepreneurs to locate and grow here. Some of Exact Sciences’ workers would choose to live Downtown, leading to more urban amenities and modern development for everyone. Over time, that should slow sprawl on the city’s edges and ease congestion on roads leading to the Isthmus.
Madison officials have long touted the need for more compact development Downtown. Now is a great chance to prove they’re serious about that worthy goal.
“If a project like this can’t work, basically we ought to throw in the towel,” Mayor Paul Soglin said last week.
Soglin’s support and creativity is crucial to getting a deal done. We’d also encourage the City Council to stay positive while responsibly poring over the plan’s details, some of which are still to come.
The proposal, with JDS Development leading the effort, needs some adjustment. And the developer appears to be adjusting. City taxpayers deserve a fair and transparent deal that city leaders understand and feel confident about.
What city officials shouldn’t do is let this big chance slip away because of relatively minor disagreements or side issues. What a shame it would be if Downtown parking, long the bane of so many development discussions, were to become a sticking point and delayed and derailed progress. Exact Sciences will encourage public transit and Downtown living to reduce parking needs.
City Council members representing other parts of the city should view Downtown investment as a win for the entire city and region. A strong and dynamic Downtown helps the area keep and attract innovative people and businesses, as well as visitors and conventions. Part of JDS’ plan includes a hotel to help Monona Terrace lure bigger events.
Madison should work overtime to get this done.