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Madison group seeks money for Central Park

Paul Snyder

Madison is forging ahead with plans to raise money for a Central Park even though the project lacks details, and the land is bisected by railroad tracks.

“Money follows inspiring ideas,” said David Mollenhoff, former president of the Marquette Neighborhood Association. “A Central Park with two railroad tracks cutting through it is not an inspiring idea.”

Yet the city’s Central Park Design and Implementation Task Force on Wednesday agreed to a basic plan for Central Park’s scope and agreed to create an advocacy group to raise money for the project, which would be in Madison’s Marquette Neighborhood.

Bill Barker, the task force chairman, said the task force is nearing agreement on a basic plan for the long-discussed project. That plan could be vetted by the city’s Parks Department and other city committees.

Yet Mollenhoff and some task force members are questioning whether the group’s ideas are well developed.

“This is not a park,” Mollenhoff told the task force. “This is a serious compromise. I don’t think you can raise serious money for a compromise.”

A major roadblock to the development of the park, which is bordered by Wilson and Railroad streets on the north and south and Baldwin and Brearly streets on the east and west, is the land is bisected by an active railroad line.

Madison for several years discussed relocating the tracks, but conversations dwindled when the economy worsened, and it became clear it would take years to raise the estimated $10 million to relocate the tracks.

“People want to see something happen,” Barker said. “The need for this park is only going to increase.”

Madison also owns only some of the land in the park’s proposed boundaries. Mark Olinger, Madison’s director of planning and development, said the city could acquire some of the land, but other portions, including land owned by Research Products Corp. on Ingersoll Street, might be unavailable for years.

“Let’s think about what could happen,” he said. “That property could be the centerpiece of interesting open-space opportunities that come up in the future and allow us to grow the park.”

But any efforts to raise money will need more guidance, said Joe Sensenbrenner, a task force member and former Madison mayor.

“We need to say what kind of open space is going to be there,” he said.

Without that, Mollenhoff said, the task force could be sending its advocacy group on a fool’s errand.

“I’m not convinced we know what kind of park we’re talking about,” he said. “But if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

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