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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 33.0° F  Overcast
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Next stop: Yahara Station?
Citizen group advocates for isthmus train terminal
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The proposed path has the train coming to First Street and East Washington Avenue but not stopping there.
The proposed path has the train coming to First Street and East Washington Avenue but not stopping there.
Credit:David Michael Miller

As the Oct. 2 deadline looms to apply for federal funds for the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line, a group of residents is lobbying to move the proposed station from the airport closer to downtown - to First Street and East Washington Avenue, next to Burr Jones Field.

"Even if there's no Yahara Sation, the train will still go through [this area]," says Patrick McDonnell, president of the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association and a supporter of the proposal. "You'll see the Capitol on your way to the airport."

But Yahara Station, in large part the brainchild of local urban planner Barry Gore, would be 3½ miles closer to downtown and be better connected to bike trails, sidewalks and bus lines.

Supporters say a station at Yahara would spur economic development along East Washington Avenue. And it would have the advantage of being in an existing tax incremental financing district, so future tax gains could be directed to other redevelopment projects.

"The city has a golden opportunity," McDonnell says. "Most cities would be scrambling to figure out how to establish a TIF district around their station."

But so far, public officials haven't budged on the airport location. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz met with the Yahara group last week. His spokeswoman, Rachel Strauch-Nelson, says that while the Yahara Station has some merit, the mayor's "main goal is to get high-speed rail to Madison," and he fears changing the proposal will make the project less competitive.

Scott McDonell, chairman of the Dane County Board, says the current proposal is strong "because we don't have anything hanging it up. Unless we start changing it."

But Thomas Miller, another Yahara advocate, says the case for not tweaking the plans is overstated: "All three cities on this same line are in some state of discussion about where their station will be located."

And McDonnell says the Yahara Station, by giving the project an economic development component, would "put Madison in the sweet spot of what the federal government is looking for in high-speed rail projects."

City landmarks get a break

On Tuesday night, the Common Council agreed to exempt city-designated landmarks from encroachment fees for marquees and decorative cornices in city rights-of-way.

The issue was raised earlier this year by the owners of the Majestic Theatre on King Street, who balked at having to pay an annual fee for their marquee at the historic theater they renovated ("City of Madison Goes After Majestic Theatre on Marquee Fees," 2/20/09).

Ald. Verveer says that there are 178 designated city landmarks, and that only a couple dozen have had to pay an annual encroachment fee. They'll get refunds for what they paid. The city collected only about $10,000 from these buildings, so it won't lose much money.

"We should be doing everything we can to encourage people to landmark their properties, if they're eligible," Verveer says.

The city will continue to collect encroachment fees for underground vaults. But property owners can also have the vaults removed, with the city footing half the bill.

No peace for park

Plans for a visitor center and bathrooms at Lisa Link Peace Park - the humble, often neglected park at State and Gilman streets - are already running over budget.

"The building design as requested by planning staff and urban design commission is yielding a higher cost than budgeted for," says Ald. Mike Verveer, whose district includes the park. "The rest is coming in under budget. We have to figure out a way to make it all work."

The park renovations were budgeted at $650,000, using TIF money; and $350,000 for the visitor center, using privately raised funds. But the building is now projected to cost $450,000, and Verveer says "state TIF law does not allow for any money to be spent on the building."

The city is tweaking the building plans to get the price tag down.

Revisions for the park will do more to stress the "peace" part of its name, Verveer says: "Ever since the park was created, it's really had little indication of the peace movement."

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