Officially, it’s called the General Executive Facility, or GEF 1, pronounced “Jeff 1” by the countless state workers who have served behind its concrete walls, which resemble a prison.
Unofficially, the four-story, half-century-old state office building in the 200 block of East Washington Avenue is Madison’s ugliest, least-inviting structure.
So good riddance.
Mr. Evers, tear down GEF’s walls — and everything else that goes with it. Build something better, which should be easy.
To his credit, Gov. Tony Evers appears ready to do just that, with bipartisan support.
The Wisconsin Historical Society just announced promising plans to build a long-awaited $120 million state history museum on this prime and underutilized site just one block off the Capitol Square. Past governors — Republicans and Democrats — have endorsed $70 million for the museum, with private fundraising adding $50 million to the noble cause.
Originally, the modern museum was proposed for the top of State Street where the existing, cramped and outdated state history center now stands in a former hardware store. But that proposal was complicated by plans for a larger private development that would have surrounded the new museum.
The new location, where GEF 1 stands now, should make it easier and faster to gain approval and break ground. The new museum will provide the public with world-class history exhibits, gathering spaces and distance-learning technology. It’s expected to attract 150,000 visitors a year and double student visits to 50,000. Downtown Madison would have another draw.
The museum could be coupled with modern office space or other uses. And if some of the large GEF 1 property held private office space, it could add to the tax rolls. The state plans to seek an architect and engineering team soon. Evers could announce more detail during his state budget address next week.
All of this is exciting. But most delicious will be the demolition of GEF 1, an eyesore of concrete built in what is aptly called Brutalist style. GEF 1’s windowless first-floor walls deaden the streetscape on all sides. Its boxy and heavy design is dreary and cold. No one would want to walk past or into its 271,493 square feet of office space unless they worked there or had state business inside. The building houses the state Department of Workforce Development and a two-level underground parking garage.
Those important state functions can find new homes, either with the new museum or on a less prominent site.