Fill in the two big blanks on Madison’s East Side

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial, May 11, 2014

Finally, it appears, two conspicuously barren sites on Madison’s East Side will be transformed into thriving developments.

Let’s get these needed projects — Union Corners and Royster Corners — to the finish line at City Hall. They’ll be great for their neighborhoods, with amenities such as grocery stores and a library. And they’ll help grow the tax base, which pays for city services.

Union Corners is a major mixed-use project at the busy intersection of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street. It’s been frustratingly dormant for about a decade. But revised plans and strong neighborhood support have opened the way to key city approvals this month.

Gorman & Co.’s $83 million proposal for the 11.4-acre site would include a health clinic and buildings of four to six stories with a grocery store and restaurant, housing and a pedestrian path.

Previous attempts to revitalize this prominent site stalled and failed, leaving a glaring blotch of blight in the East Washington streetscape to Downtown.

Ald. Marsha Rummel, who represents the area, said last week Gorman’s latest revision has “all the right pieces” with “overwhelmingly positive” response at a neighborhood meeting. That’s the most encouraging news for the area in years.

The other open urban space that badly needs filling is Royster Corners, the 28-acre site of a former fertilizer plant at the corner of Cottage Grove and Dempsey roads. The site has been flattened and cleaned, with the city hoping to build roads this summer.

Apartments that are part of the project just got tax credits that should allow construction to begin this fall. Other pieces of the larger plan include a new Pinney branch library, single-family homes, commercial space and possibly a Willy Street Co-op grocery.

The city hasn’t signed off on everything yet. But Ald. David Ahrens, who represents the area, is “terrifically” supportive and doesn’t see any difficult obstacles ahead.

“Once it’s done,” Ahrens said Wednesday, “it will be just a huge center. We really don’t have many opportunities like this.”

He’s right. These two projects have been talked about for too long. It’s time to break ground.