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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Overcast
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Citizen Dave: Bring the Madison Municipal Building back to life
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Madison Municipal Building
Madison Municipal Building

The Madison Municipal Building, once a grand federal courthouse, is a beautiful wreck. It deserves a new life, but it's not likely to get one under current city plans.

The city of Madison has some interesting proposals for the redevelopment of the two blocks just east of the City-County Building, located between Doty and Wilson streets and just a block from Monona Terrace. It's a project started under a previous forward-looking administration when the space was hoped to become home to a high-speed rail station (insert deep sigh here) and a public market.

The current city administration kept the same basic concept, but renamed the project after the late federal judge James E. Doyle (appropriately enough) and scrapped plans for a public market at that site (the jury is still out on that one).

Anyway, the future for Judge Doyle Square looks good with a new hotel (let's hope there are more rooms than are currently being proposed), underground parking (let's hope there's less than the developers will say they need), and some other amenities being proposed. The area might even be good for the intercity bus transit station I wrote about yesterday.

But here's what I don't get. In its request for proposals, the city specifically discouraged the inclusion of the Municipal Building in the redevelopment. Only one of the four applicants went ahead with it anyway.

It makes little or no sense for the city to want to hold on to that building. The building was originally constructed for a few judges and their clerks with a large courtroom. It never has worked well for municipal offices that require many small cubicles and other work spaces.

In addition, the windows leak, the old courtroom functions poorly as the city's primary meeting space because of poor acoustics and bad lighting, and the Madison City Channel studio is crammed into a corner of the same room. It would take millions to bring it up to even minimum standards of comfort and usefulness.

What's needed is a new city office building nearby, probably as part of a mixed use building somewhere on the Doyle Square site. The City Channel could get a real studio. Some of the cost of that could be offset by selling the land the city owns on that site.

Then the Municipal Building could be repurposed as a grand entrance into the hotel, which would incorporate the structure and be built up behind it. The building could be restored as suites and meeting spaces, and the once beautiful courtroom could be brought back as a ballroom.

The alternative is to sink probably north of $10 million into a building that will never function as an efficient municipal office building. That just doesn't add up.

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