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Madison sticks to Central Library rebuild

By Paul Snyder

Madison will not consider any options for a new Central Library besides rebuilding the one it already has.

The Common Council Tuesday night, on an 18–1 vote, approved a resolution to support rebuilding the existing Central Library on West Mifflin Street, effectively killing any chances for construction of a new building elsewhere.

Many council members said they “grudgingly” supported the rebuilding and complained it was not the project they were originally promised.

“I’m not feeling at all good about how the process has unfolded,” said Alderwoman Shiva Bidar-Sielaff. “It leaves us all with many questions about how we got here.”

Madison last year voted to support a six-story new building project on West Washington Avenue. The new building would have an exterior designed and built by a development team led by Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc. The team then would have turned over the project to the city to build the interior.

Fees the team received for building the shell would have let Fiore buy the city’s existing library to redevelop it into a mixed-use building.

But city negotiations with Fiore broke down in March, and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz quickly began a push for rebuilding the existing library.

The city was too quick to give up on the Fiore proposal, said Alderman Brian Solomon.

“I’m shocked that one step backward would make everyone think we kill momentum and enter 20 years of nothing happening,” he said. “I’m worried we were scared into a back-up plan that none of us support. If we really believe in something, we should give it a few more shots before we give up.”

Despite his protest, Solomon voted for the resolution supporting the rebuild.

Stu Levitan, a city historian and member of various city committees, said the original plan Fiore pitched was still the best for the city and downtown business. But he said the city needs a major library project, and the rebuild can meet that need.

“You’ll still be recognizing the importance of a flagship library,” he told the council. “If you recognize and honor the past, future generations will recognize you.”

The passage of the resolution means the city can now select a design firm for the rebuild. The city has a shortlist of five candidates that had originally submitted qualifications to design the interior of the Fiore-proposed project.

Alderwoman Judy Compton said she was disappointed the city did not put out a new request for qualifications once plans for the project changed from an interior design to a complete rebuild. But she still voted for the project.

The council will still have to approve the selected designer.

Grudging support or not, Levitan said the Central Library plan got the support it needed Tuesday.

“Twenty years from now people won’t be talking about all these debates about rebuilding or building new,” he said. “People will just be enjoying a new library and saying, ‘Thank you for doing this.’”

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