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Big project Downtown is just what Madison needs
Big project Downtown is just what Madison needs

Big project Downtown is just what Madison needs


What will Madison look like after the pandemic?

A reassuring view of our city’s future is the $125 million office tower proposed for the Capitol Square. The city’s Plan Commission last week wisely approved Urban Land Interest’s revised and improved plans to dramatically revitalize the 10 block of North Pinckney Street.

The Madison City Council should give its final OK to this exciting and worthy development. So should the city’s Urban Design Commission. The ULI project will provide Downtown with a shot of private investment just when it’s needed most.

The ULI proposal respects history — including the landmark American Exchange building — by erecting its glass and stone tower toward the back of the block, away from the Square. The project also looks to the future, catering modern workspaces to technology companies that encourage innovation and contribute to the entire region’s prosperity.

Another vision of where Madison is heading, after the virus finally recedes, is more concerning. Look at boarded-up State Street, where small businesses continue to struggle if they haven’t closed. It’s a sad sight. COVID-19, which is keeping more people at home, has sharply reduced foot traffic and sales in the city’s premier shopping and entertainment district. On top of that, senseless vandalism and looting that followed protests in Madison over police misconduct in other cities further diminished State Street’s health.

The City Council has done little to help the central city recover, which is disturbing. The council repeatedly rejected solid funding to help business owners repair their properties after costly damage from unruly crowds. The city failed to protect these businesses from rioters, then failed to help make them whole. Many business owners are local people, including women and people of color.

Madison can’t take the future of its Downtown for granted. Following the upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s — when demonstrations for civil rights and protests against the Vietnam War shook State Street and the UW-Madison campus — Downtown Madison struggled to rekindle its vibrancy. It wasn’t until the building and tech booms of the last two decades that the Capitol Square and most of Downtown thrived.

Nothing guarantees that the central city will come roaring back after this year’s double dose of disease and violence.

But the ULI project certainly provides some hope. The developers will retain the historic scale of facades facing the Square while providing 22,000 square feet of first-floor retail space. The project’s tower, which abides by Capitol height limits, will add more than 300,000 square feet of office space, with 840 underground parking spaces.

A wine bar at the top of the nearby AC Hotel is worried its views of the Capitol will be blocked. We understand its concern. Yet views of the Capitol are constantly changing as Madison grows. That’s inevitable. And the ULI project should provide businesses around it with more customers.

Besides the ULI project, the Madison Plan Commission last week approved LZ Ventures’ stylish, 10-story housing redevelopment on the 400 block of East Washington Avenue. More people will be able to live Downtown near where they work, reducing traffic congestion and urban sprawl.

We see great things ahead for the Madison region and the heart of Downtown. The city must help make that happen — not assume a rosy rebound is inevitable.

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