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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 37.0° F  Fair
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100 block stores must move out for State Street development
Businesses brace for change
Tony Azad's store, Vic's Corn Popper, will be forced to move for the new Frautschi development.
Tony Azad's store, Vic's Corn Popper, will be forced to move for the new Frautschi development.
Credit:Joe Tarr

For Lubna Azad, what matters is location, location, location. With her husband, Tony, Azad runs Vic's Corn Popper at 127 State St., which they've owned since 1984. Their loyal customers - office workers during the week and tourists on the weekend - know where to find them.

But the building is one of several standing in the way of the Block 100 Foundation, which has proposed an office and retail development to complement the Overture Center down the street. Overture benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland bought the buildings through an LLC and are spearheading the $10 million development.

The building the Azads' business is in would be rebuilt under the plan. "This building is falling apart, no doubt about it," Lubna says. But the Azads - who have been told they need to move because their lease will not be renewed - would like to return to the 100 block once a new development is constructed. "All we can do is make a case to be allowed to come back."

For now, the Azads are looking at a location at the other end of State Street.

Several other businesses would also be forced to move if the development is approved. They include the restaurant Frida's, Eye Contact and Shangri-La Collections. All of the buildings housing these stores - 117 to 129 State St. - would be razed, with the faades later rebuilt.

Two vacant buildings, 120 and 122 W. Mifflin St., would also be demolished, including the Schubert Building, 120 W. Mifflin St., which is a historic landmark.

The plan has preservationists worried. Jason Tish, executive director of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, says it isn't the loss of any particular building that concerns him.

"It's about the whole sense of what State Street is," he says. "Is it a historic commercial district? Or is it a place where we want to reinvent that whole strip?"

The general plan isn't bad from "an urban planning perspective," Tish says. But he adds, "Their approach to it is a little heavy-handed."

The Madison Trust would like the Castle and Doyle building, 125 State St. (Shangri-La), and its neighbor, the C.E. Buell Building, 121-123 State St. (Eye Contact), completely preserved. "Those two in particular have a lot of potential for attractive rear-side developments," Tish says. "Those buildings make great urban spaces, cafes and shops. Buildings with old character are great for reuse."

The building where Vic's Corn Popper is located, at the corner of State Street and Fairchild, is reportedly "in really bad condition," Tish says. "The brick is powdering…. If it is in that poor condition, it may be time to [give up on] that building."

In general, when a historic building must be razed, the Madison Trust advocates "making the new thing modern to reflect the times," Tish says. "In this case, we take exception to that. To introduce something modern would be jarring."

Ald. Mike Verveer, who represents this part of the city, says that the people he's heard from fall into two camps. One camp likes the plans, while the other, larger camp wants the State Street faades preserved as they are, not simply reconstructed.

"At first glance, folks assume that the faades are being shored up," Verveer says. "No, the proposal is to use historic photographs and re-create these to how they were in historic photos," he says. The demolition would raze half the block, which he adds, "would be a shock to the system."

To catch a thief

It was, as Renee Witke says, "kind of mysterious."

When Witke came into work after Labor Day weekend at St. Bernard Catholic preschool on Atwood Avenue, she discovered that someone had stolen the rubber mulch in the school's playground. Although the shredded rubber has elicited protests in some parts of the city, Witke says the school has been pleased with it.

Witke notes that the thieves would have had to spend hours stealing the material. "You'd have to rake it and shovel it into a wheelbarrow," she says. "It was just unfortunate. We're a very small nonprofit preschool. It's tough for our budget to take on this loss."

While Witke has no idea who would steal the rubber mulch, she notes that it's become increasingly popular in yards, parks and gardens.

Madison Police and the Madison Parks Division say there have been no other similar thefts reported.

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