Embrace Plan for Area’s Rebirth

City Leaders Should Welcome A Private Developer’s Concept As A Catalyst For Revitalization Of East Washington Avenue


Wisconsin State Journal, September 16, 2004

Madison developer Gary Gorman’s offer to jump-start East Washington Avenue redevelopment could be a catalyst for a much-needed makeover of the aging area east of the Capitol.

But it’s also a test for Madison’s newly business-friendly mayor, who should do his utmost to make sure the expected project proceeds unmolested by the City Council and anti-growth naysayers.

Gorman proposes a major housing and commercial project on East Washington Avenue, an area that currently falls well short of its potential as a grand gateway to Downtown Madison. The project next to Breese Stevens Stadium would replace a Don Miller car dealership.

Gorman is the right developer for the job: He specializes in inner city redevelopment and builds a lot of low-cost housing. And the time is right: The city is spending $60 million to reconstruct East Washington Avenue from this area near the Capitol all the way east to Thierer Road by East Towne Mall.

And most important, the project is right for the neighborhood. With condos and apartments stacked on a site now occupied by a dealership parking lot, this major investment by Gorman could expand the city’s tax base, improve the area’s aesthetics, attract more redevelopment and bolster the neighborhood’s quality of life.

Gorman is holding off on announcing project costs, specific design, number of condos and rental units, commercial space and parking until after he talks to the neighborhood representatives. That’s smart. And in turn, residents ought to embrace Gorman’s concept as a key to the future vitality of the surrounding Old Market and Tenney-Lapham neighborhoods.

At the same time, this project will be a test for Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who has promised to close Madison’s business-government divide. The city committees, staff and elected officials who review and approve land use represent a barely decipherable bureaucracy that often creates extra expenses for businesses, sometimes enforces rules unevenly and may be pushing healthy growth and development to the suburbs. Reasonable ideas to attract business, create jobs and boost the tax base tend to languish while these officials debate new regulations and restrictions on growth and development.

It may be hard to imagine Madison’s consensus-minded mayor dragging this leftish bunch into a pro-development mode. But the Gorman plan gives Cieslewicz a fairly noncontroversial project to champion as a case example for streamlined regulation and a more civilized project approval process.

There’s no doubt the city must start redeveloping aging or stagnant areas such as the east Isthmus and Park Street to keep the local economy growing. This economic progress unavoidably changes the physical landscape. Gorman is making an offer the city shouldn’t refuse. For once, let’s see city officials and neighborhood power brokers welcome and support a great idea.