By Jenny Peek, The Isthmus, 04/25/2014
The plans for Union Corners have gone through several iterations, and neighbors have at times been harshly critical. But the final general development plan for the 11.5-acre project at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street seems to have hit the sweet spot.
Residents who packed a neighborhood meeting Thursday night at Bashford United Methodist Church applauded more than once the efforts of Gorman & Company, the developers of the project, Plunkett Raysich Architects and UW Hospital and Clinics to take the neighborhood’s concerns into account.
“I’m really pleased with what happened tonight,” Gary Gorman, CEO of Gorman & Company, said after the meeting. “People that have been not very shy about being critical were really supportive.”
Gorman attributed the positive response of neighbors to the flexibility of UW Hospital and Clinics and to Plunkett Raysich’s responsiveness to the community’s concerns.
Ald. Marsha Rummel was happy to see the drastic change in design from the plans presented in January. “The January submission to the Urban Design Commission — it was terrifying. It was worse than what they had initially submitted that won them the whole shebang, so the neighborhoods got to work, and we met with [Gorman] and UW Health, and they really responded.”
The major concern from the January design revolved around the placement of the UW Hospital Clinic on the corner of East Washington and Milwaukee Street. The neighborhood hoped the corner would serve instead as the gateway into the mixed-use development.
Project consultant and manager Joe Schwenker said the developers went back to the drawing board after the January meeting. “We met with the steering committee, who met with some of the neighbors; we met with city staff; we met with Mayor [Paul] Soglin twice; and here we are today with a new plan that hopefully respects and responds to all of your concerns,” Schwenker told the crowd.
Schwenker noted it was important to the developer to create a sense of place for the project and to treat the neighborhood as a client, along with its other clients — the city and UW Health.
The new design relocates the UW clinic to the corner of East Washington and Sixth Street, a new controlled intersection, leaving the main corner of the property for commercial and retail surrounding a town square area that could be used for festivals or farmers’ markets. The corner space will also include an organic grocery store, Fresh Thyme.
The combined effort of four neighborhoods — Worthington Park, Eken Park, Emerson East and Schenk-Atwood — helped shape the outcome of the project. And the Union Corners steering committee helped ensure that their voices were heard.
“[The steering committee] represents the neighborhood’s concerns to Gorman,” former Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway, a member of the steering committee, said after the meeting, “and helps them understand what they were hearing from the neighborhood. And ultimately, I think, get them to a place where the neighborhood is much more supportive of where it was initially.”
Gorman was pleased with the support from the neighborhood and proud of the collaborative effort that went into the final plan.
“It’s never easy, and it’s never quick, but this is a large project; it’ll have a 100-year-impact, not just on this immediate neighborhood, but the city. So having done something that all of us are going to be proud of, that’s worth going through a little more of a process,” Gorman said after the meeting.
The final version of the general development plan will be presented to the Urban Design Committee on May 7 at 4:30 pm in the Madison Municipal Building. If approved, the next step will be to create a “Specific Implementation Plan” focusing on the design elements.
If all goes according to plan, ground will be broken on the UW Clinic this fall.