Two Madison aldermen want the state Department of Health Services building, with its art deco styling, to be home to the new high-speed rail depot near Monona Terrace.
Common Council President Mark Clear and Alderman Mike Verveer, who represents the terrace’s downtown district, said Thursday during an informal walking tour of the area they also envision converting part of the historic building into a hotel.
“Imagine a hotel porter greeting you at the depot and taking your luggage to a room,” Verveer said.
The aldermen, though, had not heard from the state or city about formalizing plans for a depot site. Both city leaders said they want to share their ideas and ask if they are possible.
Gov. Jim Doyle announced in early May the Madison depot would be near Monona Terrace, but state officials since then have not released more information about the rail and depot projects, which promise millions of dollars in infrastructure construction and jobs.
That lack of details is vexing Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc., who said her group recently sent inquiries to the city and state about the criteria for planning.
Chris Klein, executive assistant in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the state is considering either the Department of Administration Building, 101 E. Wilson St., or the Department of Health Services Building, 1 W. Wilson St., as a site for the depot. He said the state and city are working together on site selection, and the public will have opportunities to examine plans and comment on the location at public hearings. Dates for the hearings have not been set.
But even the number of candidates for the depot project is a point of disagreement. David Trowbridge, city of Madison transportation planner, said he is working with the state on deciding a final site and the Lake Terrace State Office Building, 121 E. Wilson St., also is under consideration.
The state has not yet hired a consultant for an environmental assessment of the sites, but Klein said he expects the depot to be ready by the 2013 deadline.
As for the hotel project, he said, the city would have to advance the idea.
The two aldermen who walked the site Thursday offered their ideas for construction, but both said they found it difficult to envision a picturesque depot and ramp in the now-barren area along John Nolen Drive and beneath Monona Terrace.
They questioned how a busy passenger ramp and station would fit along the area where they began the tour — looking through the metal fencing of the indoor parking lot for the DOA building.
A steep hill that supports the Lake Terrace State Office Building drew questions from Verveer and Clear about the engineering challenge of putting a depot there.
The aldermen trudged west into the dark underbelly of the terrace and toward their choice site at the Department of Health Services building.
After an uphill climb to Wilson Street, the aldermen visited the building’s lobby and marveled at its mixed use of floor, wall and ceiling marble and discussed the possibilities for private investment after construction of the depot.
“I don’t have any sense of whether it’s feasible,” Verveer said, “but I love the idea of a hotel and station here.”