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Sun Prairie tempts Madison Marcus project

Paul Snyder

A Marcus Corp. movie theater project could jump the border into Sun Prairie from Madison, leaving a hole in Madison’s predicted tax base and a 26-acre gap in the landscape.

“Nothing at all has happened yet,” said Madison Alderman Joe Clausius. “They’ve got an option to purchase land in Sun Prairie and an option in Madison, but they haven’t informed me or anyone else what the decision is.”

Clausius said he and other Madison planners in the coming days will meet with representatives from Milwaukee-based Marcus to resolve any concerns about the company’s original plan to develop an entertainment center with 16 movie screens on Madison’s east side.

Yet Marcus now has an option to buy 16 acres in the Prairie Lakes retail area on Sun Prairie’s west side along with the option to buy the 26-acre plot at Highway 151 and Nelson Road in Madison. Marcus is trying to replace its aging Eastgate Cinemas complex on Madison’s east side.

Madison’s Urban Design Commission, Plan Commission and Common Council granted the project preliminary approvals, but Marcus has not submitted more detailed plans. The company has not provided cost estimates for the project.

Neil Stechschulte, Sun Prairie’s economic development director, said Marcus chose Sun Prairie’s west side property as a smaller, more manageable alternative.

“There’s still a long way to go and a lot of work to do,” he said. “We haven’t even seen site plans or begun the approvals process, but we think that once we have them, we can get approvals through in about seven weeks.”

A Marcus official did not return repeated calls for comment before deadline.

But Clausius said the pressure is on Madison to keep Marcus. He said the recession pinched the company’s original plan to develop surrounding retail as well as the theater.

“We were originally looking at a planned unit development with a shopping center and many facets that Marcus would help develop,” Clausius said. “Hopefully, we can forestall some of the amenities and just focus on the theater because we need to get a project like that on the east side.”

Sun Prairie soon will have a new Target store in the Prairie Lakes development, so, Stechschulte said, shoring up tax base is less of a concern than it is in Madison. And Target takes the pressure off Marcus to develop additional retail, he said.

“That kind of project would be fantastic in any sort of economy,” he said. “But the thing we look at is how attractive the area would become to other development.”

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