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Madison names 3 design finalists for Lake Monona waterfront

By: Ethan Duran//February 9, 2023//

Madison names 3 design finalists for Lake Monona waterfront

By: Ethan Duran//February 9, 2023//

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Lake Monona waterfront
Madison officials will choose from three designers’ plans as part of a competition. The city can choose from a boardwalk, converting the John Nolen Drive highway into a park boulevard or building a pedestrian plaza directly over the road. (Rendering courtesy of Agency Landscape + Planning)

A boardwalk, an elevated plaza and a park boulevard were among three design firm’s plans to recreate Madison’s Lake Monona waterfront along John Nolen Drive.

Madison is hosting a competition for designers to submit plans to redevelop the Lake Monona Waterfront, and the three finalists are Massachusetts-based Agency Landscape + Planning, New York-based James Corner Field Operations and Colorado-based Sasaki Associates. All three submitted plans to redevelop 1.7 miles of lakefront with broad ecological themes, but different appeals for featured structures.

The project to redevelop the busy lakefront could cost between $150 million and $250 million. Here are each company’s submissions to the competition.

Agency Landscape + Planning 

Lake Monona waterfront
Agency Landscape + Planning’s proposal has an extensive boardwalk, two overlooks and a “Walk on Water.” (Rendering courtesy of Agency Landscape + Planning.)

The “Reviving Lake Monona” proposal aims for a “living shoreline” to reboot local natural habitats and includes separated bike and walking paths, spaces for fishing and birdwatching and event-spaces across three districts for all seasons.

One district is a park to complement Madison’s downtown convention center, the second includes pedestrian and bike paths and the last one is a shoreline park at Olin Park.

“While there have been ambitious plans and much to applaud about the Lake’s evolution, there is much unmet potential today,” the framework plan said. “Climate change, community open space needs, and shifts in transportation patterns have increased the urgency to fully leverage the Lake’s role in contemporary Madison.”

James Corner Field Operations 

Lake Monona waterfront
James Corner Field Operations’ plans include reducing John Nolen Drive, a boathouse, docks and an event venue. (Rendering courtesy of James Corner Field Operations)

James Corner’s “Wild Lakeshore” includes plans for a boathouse, restaurant and event venue, a rooftop amphitheater and docks spread across five locations. The firm also plans to transform John Nolen Drive into a park boulevard instead of a highway by reducing two lanes to four and adding 40 feet of parkland.

“We propose transforming John Nolen Drive from a highway into a park boulevard,” the firm said. “By reducing lanes (feasibility confirmed in early traffic studies), adding street trees, and improving intersections and other amenities, John Nolen Drive can serve as both a celebratory gateway, a green corridor, and safe, multi-modal street for all. Moreover, this transformation will more than double the land available for the future lakefront park.”


Lake Monona waterfront
Sasaki plans to build a pedestrian plaza over John Nolen Drive. (Rendering courtesy of Sasaki)

The Colorado-based firm introduced plans for extensive running and biking trails, measures to slow traffic speed and improve intersections along the drive. Dubbed “Voices of the Lake: Monona’s Waterfront,” the project includes pervious paving, bioswales and wetlands to filter out pollutants and send rainwater that falls onto parking lots into the groundwater faster.

Sasaki’s plan features a pedestrian plaza over John Nolen drive, which features a garden, an event space and a waterfront restaurant. The proposed structure is northeast of Monona Terrace and includes pedestrian shortcuts from E. Wilson Street.

The 1.7-mile long plan will be divided into four district zones: Law Park Ledge with a new park over John Nolen Drive, Lake Lounge with a connection to the Capitol, Community Causeway for cyclists and pedestrians and Olin Overlook with a nature center and raised walk.

Madison will have a public survey open until March, part of an eight-week comment phase which opened on Jan. 26, the city said. The Lake Monona Waterfront Ad-hoc Committee will then consider community input and evaluate master plans in April. The council will work with the designer of its choice and submit the option to the Madison Common Council in August.

The city will transform the two-story building and 3.65 acres of shoreline at Olin Park in 2019 and reconstruct John Nolen Drive in 2026, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Madison also plans to create a “Destination District” around the Alliant Energy Center with connections of the city’s South Side to the lake and downtown.

Madison spent $75,000 for each of the three finalists and paid a consultant $260,000 to produce a 216-page report in May 2021. Half of the money to designers was privately funded by Friends of Nolen Waterfront. The design team the city chooses will get $200,000 to refine its master plan.


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