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Downtown businesses fight for new Madison library (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

Madison’s downtown business community is not ready to give up on the development opportunities tied to construction of a new central library.

If the city and The Fiore Cos. Inc., Madison, had reached a development deal, the two would have teamed up to build a new library on West Washington Avenue and redevelop the library building on West Mifflin Street.

It’s the redeveloped building and boost to the downtown tax base that business groups such as Downtown Madison Inc. want to preserve.

“We’re still looking for development of the larger block,” Susan Schmitz, DMI president, of the library site on West Mifflin. “I’m not sure the other goals the new building would have achieved — increased parking and the possibility for other development — can be achieved with renovation.”

The city is leaning toward renovation after a breakdown in negotiations with Fiore. The Madison Public Library Board now supports renovation, and a Common Council resolution would clarify money for building a new library can be used for a renovation.

But the Madison Common Council is not sold on renovation. Alderman Bryon Eagon, a member of the Downtown Coordinating Committee, which advises the Common Council on downtown planning, said construction of a new library still should be part of the discussion.

“I haven’t committed to full support of a new building or rehab, but I do think there are alders with significant reservations about rehab and I’m leaning that way,” Eagon said. “Maybe it isn’t the right decision.”

Troy Thiel, downtown committee chairman, is trying to tip city sentiment back toward new construction. He said he wants the city to spend four weeks negotiating with Fiore and next week will ask his committee to formalize the request.

If the city and Fiore cannot work out a compromise in four weeks, Thiel said, he would then support renovation.

“It’s inappropriate for the future of Madison to walk away from a deal that people were so supportive of,” he said. “Frankly, to take the community good out of this process, I think, is a little offensive.”

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the negotiations with Fiore essentially broke down over $1.5 million.

He said he budgeted $37 million for the project, but Fiore would not do the project for less than $38.5 million.

“We thought we could bridge the gap,” Cieslewicz told the Library Board on Monday, “but in the end, we couldn’t.”

William Kunkler, Fiore’s executive vice president, was unavailable for comment before deadline.

Cieslewicz said according to early estimates, the library renovation would cost about $30 million. A renovation, he said, would consist of stripping the two-story building down to its pillars and floor plates and essentially rebuilding and adding a third floor.

If the city acts now, Cieslewicz said, it can have the project out to bid by January.

But it cannot hurt to wait for four weeks, Schmitz said. She said Downtown Madison Inc. supports Thiel’s proposal.

“This was a plan that was formally approved by the Library Board,” she said of new construction. “And I think (four weeks) gives both parties a chance to have other people at the table.”

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