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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Madison's draft Downtown Plan for 2010s focuses on lakes
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This downtown plan focuses on big ideas.
This downtown plan focuses on big ideas.
Credit:City of Madison

In the 1970 Downtown Plan, Madison called for the First Settlement Neighborhood -- Madison's first residential area -- to be razed and replaced with office buildings.

But shortly after the plan was approved, something else happened: people began moving back into the neighborhood to renovate the homes, giving a second life to a neighborhood some had given up on. It was so successful that in 2002, the city declared First Settlement a historic district.

The story is evidence that urban plans don't always include the best ideas, says city planner Bill Fruhling. "It's a very good thing that some of those plans weren't implemented," he says. "That's why it's good to revisit these plans more than every 20 years."

Two years in the making, the city will unveil the draft recommendations for its latest downtown plan at a public meeting from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, in the Overture Center's Promenade Hall. While not everything in the city's downtown plans has been implemented, most of the ideas have been, Fruhling says. Which is why feedback is important.

"These are our draft recommendations, and we're presenting them for the purpose of getting additional feedback on those," he says. After Thursday's meeting, the planning department will hold several public hearings throughout October. By the end of the year, he expects a final draft will be submitted to Common Council and then referred to committees for even more refinement.

This downtown plan focuses on big ideas. "These are the bigger, higher-profile, higher-priority projects that have floated to the top as we've gone through this project," Fruhling says. "We've talked a lot about the lakes, both Mendota and Monona, and trying to improve their relationship with downtown, to beautify them, make them more active spaces and make them the true kind of asset to downtown that they should be."

That includes looking at improved access to both lakes, by developing Law Park and Monona Drive, and connecting the Union Terrace to James Madison Park via a trail. The ideas aren't necessarily new. "There have been plans for decades that have talked about, for instance, the John Nolen corridor and Law Park," Fruhling says. "But now in this planning process it seems like the importance of doing something in those areas has really risen as a priority. People have determined this is the time to get serious about doing something about it."

Another area that has gotten a lot of discussion is the Mifflin Street neighborhood. Planners were considering recommending the iconic houses in the neighborhood be torn down and replaced with mid-rise buildings, creating a transition between the UW-Madison and downtown. They are now recommending a concept (PDF) that will preserve the core of the houses on the block, but allow for taller buildings along the periphery of the neighborhood, on Dayton, Broom and Bedford streets.

Thursday night's meeting will begin with an open house, allowing residents to look at drawings and ask questions informally, after which city planning staff will give a formal presentation on the plan. The meeting will break into smaller groups to discuss the plan and get feedback.

"The idea behind all of this is to create a cohesive vision for downtown," Fruhling says, "so when there are individual decisions, there's this kind of framework these decisions are made within, that have a common goal for downtown."

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