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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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City shows off bold new plan for downtown Madison
One of the larger scale projects in the plan is the transformation of Law Park.
One of the larger scale projects in the plan is the transformation of Law Park.
Credit:City of Madison Planning Division

Madison Ald. Mike Verveer knows the natural beauty of Madison often goes overlooked in the pursuit of various city projects.

"It's pretty much a no-brainer that Madison hasn't taken advantage of its lake shore to its fullest potential," Verveer says. "In terms of just the aesthetics of it, it''s really clear to a lot of folks that we can do better."

Thus, Verveer is looking forward to the many changes proposed for the shores and roads surrounding Lake Monona under the latest downtown plan, a draft version (PDF) of which was presented at an open house on Thursday.

The open house and public meeting, at the Overture Center's Promenade Hall, gave downtown residents a chance to peruse the plan and offer input to city officials. Several dozen people attended.

Feedback from residents showed large support for the city's main goal of enhancing its lakes and creating more parks and recreation, according to Rebecca Cnare of the city's Planning Department.

The plan also involves numerous measures and proposals to improve transportation, recreation, and working and living conditions in the busy downtown area. For instance, it talks about the need for more bike trails and suggests converting some one-way streets to two-ways.

City principal planner Bill Fruhling said some of the ideas for improvements along the John Nolen Drive corridor include developing the open space, improving traffic flow and redesigning the Brittingham dog park to make the area more aesthetically pleasing -- part of the push to preserve the "postcard views" of the city.

"You're looking at the nice skyline, then you get across the bridge [on John Nolen Drive] and hit land, and things kind of fall apart," Fruhling said. "It just doesn't really make a statement the way a gateway into downtown should."

One of the larger-scale projects in the plan is the transformation of Law Park into some type of boathouse or entertainment pavilion area, which would entail filling in a section of Lake Monona to extend the shoreline.

Verveer says that a similar concept was included in the plans for Monona Terrace about 20 years ago and that the city actually got approval for the shore expansion from state and federal authorities. But the idea lost momentum because of its hefty price tag.

"Frankly to do something as bold as this new vision for Law Park, it would probably take major capital campaign and significant private funding for the city to be able to afford a project like that," Verveer says.

Other aspects of the projects -- like upgrading the dog park, opening Brittingham Beach and improving the intersections along John Nolen Drive -- are less costly, so Verveer says people could see these changes implemented soon after the plan's approval.

"There's no denying that the dog park is heavily used and extremely popular with dog owners not only in the neighborhood but throughout the city," Verveer says. "Taken as a whole, all of the recommendations to spruce up Brittingham Park, which is really the gateway of Broom Street and John Nolen Drive, are very exciting."

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