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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Facelift eyed for 'tired old' Peace Park
But will everyone be welcome at State Street hangout?
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Lisa Link Peace Park is not what you'd call the jewel of the Madison park system. The "pocket park," wedged between State and West Gilman streets, is named after peace activist Elizabeth Link and was the site of many Vietnam-era protests. In recent years, it's been a bit grungy, a hangout for the homeless and disaffected youth. But that may be about to change.

"After talking about it for a decade almost, we're finally getting around to breaking ground and doing renovations on the park," says Ald. Mike Verveer, whose district contains the park.

The plans call for a small building off State Street, which will include a visitor center, a room for police and public restrooms (among the few downtown). There will also be an amphitheater stretching away from State Street for small concerts, and a waterspout for kids to jump around in on hot days.

The renovations will cost about $1 million, Verveer says, with $650,000 coming from city TIF money, and another $350,000 from a fund-raiser. (The private money will pay for the building, for which TIF money can't be used).

Verveer hopes the city council will approve plans in June so that ground can be broken in late summer and the renovated park can open next spring. Some details are still being worked out - such as whether the bathrooms will be open all the time, require a key from the visitor center or be coin-operated.

"It's silly that there are meetings just to talk about toilets," says Verveer, "but it's something that needs to be decided."

Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc., says State Street merchants are excited by the plans. "It's a tired old park, physically, that doesn't function well for the community anymore," she says. "You get some undesirable behavior, and that makes people scared to go in there. It needs to be a respite place for everyone, and I mean everyone."

What do the park's current users think about all this?

A 54-year-old man going by the nickname "Smooth" - "I ain't going to give you my government name" - likes Peace Park as it is.

"This is just the place we hang out," says Smooth, who is passing a can of beer stuffed into a leather glove among his buddies. "It's our little spot."

Smooth, who is currently unemployed, says he hangs out at the park six days a week, from noon until early evening. He's heard talk of renovations for years and seen some changes. For instance, the tall bushes behind which people would sometimes sleep (or have sex) have been trimmed low to the ground. He wonders if there isn't another agenda.

"Sometimes change is a removal thing," he says. "Urban renewal - I call that 'urban removal.'"

Verveer admits he'd like to remove some of the park's reputation. "Over the years the park has been a magnet for street people," he says. "It's a place where people hang out. They're not overall scary mean people, but there's a perception that they're scary." He notes that the park was the first place police put surveillance cameras. "It's seen as a place where the quote-unquote bums hang out - not my word, their word."

But, Verveer stresses, there's no plan to keep anyone from using the park. "In all the meetings I've attended about Peace Park, nobody has attacked that section of the population. The motivation was not to 'kick the bums out.' I genuinely believe it's an underused park."

If Lisa Link Park is closed for renovations, Smooth says, he'll probably hang out at James Madison or Reindahl parks.

We don't want your stinking Family Care

Dane County is known around the state for the high level of services it provides to the elderly and disabled. But officials here are worried what will happen when Wisconsin's new program, Family Care, takes over.

The state program to streamline programs funded with state and federal dollars requires each county to give what it has been contributing for these services to the state. That will be a good deal for counties that don't spend much on these programs, but a bad deal for Dane County, which spends $19.6 million a year on human service programs that will eventually be run by Family Care.

Lynn Green, director of the county's Department of Human Services, says that is by far the highest amount any county spends on such programs. Milwaukee County, she says, is second, at $8 million.

Dane County Supv. Barb Vedder, a member of the county's Health and Human Needs Committee, is among those who would like to put the brakes on Dane County's entrance into the program, which is scheduled for January 2011. She and others have drafted a resolution asking the state to remove it from the budget and to reduce the amount of money the county is being asked to chip in.

"We're being expected by the state to fork in all this money that we've been providing and have it spread around the state," she says. "People living in Dane County will have lesser services because the money will be spread across the state."

Honoring Maureen Arcand

Sixteen years ago, Isthmus profiled a remarkable activist who made herself heard around the state fighting for educational reforms, neighborhoods, affordable housing and the disabled. Maureen Arcand, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was also a political force, serving three terms on the Dane County Board.

"No matter what the people issue is," Arcand told Isthmus writer George Vukelich in 1993, "it's very likely to become a political issue, and you've got to learn to deal with the political climate."

On Thursday, April 30, Arcand is being honored on the occasion of her 80th birthday, at the Goodman Community Center, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. For more information, see www.movin-out.org.

No sweat

There was a lot of hoopla over the anti-tax "tea parties" last week, but another group staged a protest a few blocks away from the Capitol, at the Capitol Station Post Office, on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

This protest was by the Sweatfree Purchasing Community and coincided with the release of a report, "Subsidizing Sweatshops" (read it at www.sweatfree.org), which catalogs which public-sector apparel manufacturers use sweatshop labor.

"Especially during this economic crisis, we want our tax dollars to be benefiting working families," says group spokeswoman Vicki Kaplan. The city of Madison, she notes, has supported the anti-sweatshop campaign, but does give allowances for employees to purchase shoes from one manufacturer, Rocky Brands, which is singled out in the report for labor violations.

The mayor's office says it doesn't contract with any suppliers that use sweatshop labor, but on April 9 sent letters to suppliers that carry brands named in the report.

"We expect that you will respond constructively to the report," wrote Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in the letter, "by working with your suppliers, the city and other organizations as necessary to ensure that any labor rights and human rights violations are corrected and conditions for workers are improved."

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