With train leaving station, what’s next for Madison?
As the city of Madison plans the next 20-plus years of downtown development, a glaring inaccuracy now exists in a document making its way through city committees.
The draft still includes maps with a high-speed rail station at the Department of Administration building.
The station likely will not be built soon.
Following last week‘s decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to redirect $810 million in federal stimulus money that was supposed to, in part, pay for a downtown Madison train station, city officials must reconsider what to do with the area surrounding the proposed depot.
Fueled by the momentum from what seemed like a certain project, Madison planned for the station to be a new city anchor, spurring construction of a new underground parking garage, a public market, a hotel and office buildings.
Those projects all have become question marks, at best.
“We had planned a new hotel to serve Monona Terrace,” Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. “That’s something I will continue to work on.
“As for the other projects, we just don’t know yet. We’ll have to evaluate.”
Reconstruction of an underground parking garage is the most likely to proceed, Cieslewicz said, because the city had been planning the project anyway. Now, though, Madison planners must reconsider how many parking spaces will be needed because people won’t be parking their cars and taking the train.
Even without high-speed rail, it’s important to instill some sort of transportation base on the southeast side of downtown to initiate development, said Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc.
“We are still looking at this area as a hub for buses and cabs and bicycles, and maybe eventually commuter rail,” Schmitz said. “Having high-speed rail there just added to it.”
But, for now, Madison is long on vision and short on specifics in accomplishing its goal for a transportation hub that excludes a federally supported rail.
“Some of the transportation recommendations are a big challenge,” said Brad Murphy, director of Madison’s planning division. “They’ve become a bigger challenge over the last month. We’ll see about that.”
Many Madison officials, who spent several months planning for development around the rail station, are sounding like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled the football away from in front of him. Cieslewicz on Tuesday continued blasting Gov.-elect Scott Walker for turning away the rail project, saying in the mayor’s blog that Wisconsin taxpayers’ money went down the “Scott Walker rat hole.”
Alderwoman Marsha Rummel, whose district includes the proposed rail station, said the loss of the project “is a backward step, and it’s so disappointing.”
Much of the conversation surrounding the downtown plan has focused on creating new height guidelines for buildings, deciding what to do about a dilapidated Mifflin Street neighborhood and increasing access to the city’s lakes.
But, as Madison shakes off the disappointment over losing high-speed rail, officials will have to begin anew filling in pieces south of the Capitol that could create jobs and lure people downtown.
“It may not be very sexy, but one of the reasons Madison’s downtown has been as healthy as it has been is an increase in the number of full-time, year-round residents,” Murphy said. “That signifies to me an increase in the quality of life for people who live downtown. I think that’s a spinoff for job creation.
“How you tie all that together and convey that in terms of vision is a good question.”