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Friday, July 11, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  Fair
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Mayor Soglin is revisiting city plans for downtown library, Overture, B-cycle
Whoa, Nellie!

Soglin wants to 'have the funds' before seeking bids on the library.
Soglin wants to 'have the funds' before seeking bids on the library.
Credit:Phil Ejercito
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A number of initiatives started under Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz are getting a second look from his successor, Paul Soglin.

The new mayor has doubts about a number of projects, including the proposed $29.5 million Central Library reconstruction, which was supposed to go to bid late this summer. He wants the $8 million in private fund-raising and $4 million in tax credits to be in hand or guaranteed before the city puts the project out for bids.

"My concern is we have the funds so we can go to bid," Soglin says. "We've already seen what happens when the city goes to bid and does not have the funds - that happened with the Peace Park project."

In that case, the city ended up paying the entire cost of a project that was supposed to be covered by a combination of public and private funds. (Fundraising is ongoing.)

The new mayor also has concerns about the restructuring of the Overture Center. "After a decade," he says, "we still have not had an appropriate study on a performing arts center and its local feeder companies, the potential audience, professional companies and other venues."

Soglin wonders about the fate of city employees who are scheduled to shift from the city to a nonprofit agency. But he doesn't know what changes can be made to the plan, which was approved by the council last December.

Some smaller projects are also getting a second look, including a bike-sharing program approved in January. B-cycle, a company started by Trek, proposed putting 350 community bikes at 35 kiosks around Madison this spring. Patrons could rent bikes using a daily, weekly or annual pass.

"The concept of bicycle sharing is great," says Soglin. "The question is if we'll have it in the near future."

The city had agreed to subsidize the program to the tune of $100,000 a year for three years, while Trek would invest about $1 million on the bicycles, kiosks and infrastructure and promises to share profits, if there are any.

Soglin wishes the project had gone out for bid first. And he fears the city subsidy is too much when the city is looking at severe funding cuts from the state.

Trek spokesman Eric Bjorling says if Madison backs out of the project, it won't cost the company anything.

"The only thing it would really cost is Madison having a great bike-share system. It was a gift from us," he says, adding, "We're still very optimistic, and we'd still love to do this."

Soglin also plans to look at Ride the Drive, scheduled this year for June 5, when major streets are closed to motor vehicles. He hasn't had time to look closely at the event, saying "there are many more important items, starting with the city budget."

Soglin moves to save bike coordinator's job

During the campaign, Soglin cited the manner in which Cieslewicz cut the city's bicycle-pedestrian safety coordinator as an example of poor management. Now one of his first moves as mayor will be to restore that position, long held by Arthur Ross.

Mayor Cieslewicz cut funding for Ross' job in the 2011 budget, with the position set to end mid-year. But on Tuesday, at his first Common Council meeting after being sworn in, Soglin introduced a budget amendment to save this position. Soglin says the move is to protect "the integrity of the personnel system."

Ross is understandably pleased: "I was hoping something like this would happen."

The amendment must yet be approved by the Common Council.

Aiding and abetting

As Mayor Soglin and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi take their new jobs, some familiar faces are popping up in their administrations.

The first staff member Soglin hired is Anne Monks, who was part of Soglin's last administration. Two former Soglin aides, Jane Richardson and Sally Miley, are working on the mayor's transition team, but will not be joining his regular staff.

Soglin plans to hire four more administrative staff members. "Even though these are political appointments, I've decided to do an open recruitment process to get as diverse a population of applicants as possible."

So far, Soglin has received 40 to 50 applications, at least two from outside of Wisconsin. "My guess is at least one or two will be completely new to city government."

Although the Dane County budget is twice the size of the city's, Parisi has fewer political appointees, with just three. He's filled two of those. Josh Wescott, the current communications director for Kathleen Falk, will be his chief of staff. And Casey Slaughter Becker, who worked in the state Assembly and later on Parisi's campaign, has been named his communications director.

Says Parisi, "It's important to have a blend of institutional knowledge and new faces coming in."

Mifflin Street party might be more open

For the first time in its 42-year history, open containers will likely be allowed at the historic Mifflin Street Block Party.

UW-Madison students hold the annual beer bash as the school year draws to a close. The party began in 1969 as an anti-Vietnam War protest, and has continued despite occasional attempts by police to shut it down.

The festival, to be held on April 30 this year, has two new sponsors: the Majestic Live and Capitol Neighborhoods Inc., the latter of which is applying for a beer permit for the event. If granted, it would allow of-age party goers to drink openly within the party confines: the 400 and 500 blocks of West Mifflin and the 10 and 100 blocks of North Bassett.

In the past, the most frequently issued fine at the party has been for open containers, says Ald. Mike Verveer, who represents the district. He supports granting the permit, saying that without a sponsor, "there would be no live entertainment, no food vendors and not even any porta-potties."

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