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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Madison Central Library has a date with the wrecking ball
Out with the old, in with...
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Fiore Companies' rendering of potential commercial
development at the Central Library site.
Fiore Companies' rendering of potential commercial development at the Central Library site.

Now that the Madison Common Council has approved borrowing $17 million to build a new downtown library, set to open in 2012, what will happen to the old Central Library?

Fiore Companies' proposal calls for the old library to be demolished and replaced with a commercial project, including yet another downtown Madison hotel.

It's not a controversial decision. The old library, built in 1964, doesn't have a lot of fans. "There's nothing in that building worth saving," says Ald. Paul Skidmore. "Seriously."

But Gary Tipler, a local historic preservationist, has mixed feelings about losing the old library: "The courtyard is a stellar modern space, and I hate to see that go." He's "surprised the people who like modern art haven't stepped forward" to sing the building's praises.

The current library will be around at least a couple more years, while Fiore builds the new one on West Washington Avenue.

It then plans to raze the old library and construct a new building with retail on the ground floor and three to four levels of parking. On top of that will go a 140-room hotel. Offices or apartments will go on the Henry Street side of the block, says Fiore's William Kunkler. But these plans are still conceptual. "I don't think we'll have specific plans until we're two years downstream."

The next step for the library project is to get more detailed plans approved by the city. "The request for proposal was really for the building shell only," says Kunkler. "[The interior design] work hasn't begun yet."

Citizens over staff

Ald. Paul Skidmore sees the city's numerous committees as a way of getting vital citizen input.

That's why he was upset when Mayor Dave Cieslewicz appointed his neighborhood liaison, Joel Plant, to the Public Safety Review Committee ("Alder: Mayor's Pick Is a Plant," 8/20/09).

Skidmore likes Plant, and even thinks he'd "be a great mayor someday." But Skidmore thinks having the mayor tap his own staff members for committee openings undercuts the goal of getting citizen input.

And so Skidmore plans to introduce a resolution next month to prohibit the mayor from naming members of Madison city staff as his designees. He cites an existing rule requiring citizens to chair most committees on which alders serve, meant to keep alders from undue influence.

"We need input from outside the inner circle," says Skidmore. "We need outside ideas."

Cieslewicz opposes the change that Skidmore is proposing. While he generally agrees that committees should be getting citizen input, he says a certain number of spots have been reserved for the "mayor or his designee."

"In most cases, it could be me [serving on the committee]," says Cieslewicz. "But I can't serve on everything. So I appoint someone close to me."

Room tax shortfall

One consequence of the recession is that people aren't doing as much traveling. For Madison, that has meant a serious loss of revenue from the city's room tax.

According to city comptroller Dean Brasser, the 9% tax imposed on hotels and motels was expected to bring in $9.1 million this year, but will instead bring in at most $7.6 million.

The room tax goes to fund three things: Monona Terrace, the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the city's general fund. Monona Terrace and the Visitors Bureau get their share first, so when there's a shortfall, the general fund gets shorted, Brasser says.

This year, the city expected to have almost $3 million from the room tax, Brasser says. Now it needs to tap into city reserves to address the shortfall. Add in lower revenues from investment income and building permit fees, and the city is projecting it will need to use $3.4 million more than expected from its contingency fund.

Brasser's office adjusted its projections after the first-quarter returns came in earlier this year, so the lower numbers are "not a surprise at this point." Next year, the city has drastically adjusted its projections, expecting its room tax share to be only $836,000.

Mayor Cieslewicz expects the revenue to eventually increase again, especially with more hotel projects being built or proposed. Does the shortfall suggest several hotel projects proposed for downtown aren't viable?

"You don't build a hotel project for the next year, you build it for the next decade or two," Cieslewicz says. "The people investing in them are taking that long view. We are coming out of this recession. The activity you see is based on the assumption they will make a profit."

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