A rendering of what Madison would look like with John Nolen Drive covered and expanded lakefront access on Monona.
Bill Fruhling knows better than to turn down free help. When the city planner began working on Madison's Downtown Plan in April 2008, he was approached by a group of local architects and urban planners from Downtown Madison Inc., offering to help craft a vision for downtown.
But Fruhling didn't want the professionals taking over a public process. So he asked them to "take ideas that come out of the public meetings and help people visualize what some alternatives might be."
Fruhling explains that public meetings often generate comments like, "We need to improve public access to the lakes." What's needed are ideas for making this happen.
The design professionals formed a work group of about 15 people. They came up with a series of renderings based on public input, adding some of their own ideas. These drawings are now on display in the city's planning office.
One idea, which has been suggested before, is to bury John Nolen Drive from the convention center to East Washington Avenue, opening up lakefront for park space and development.
The work group also proposed converting the West Mifflin Street area into residential lofts, arts galleries and some retail.
"We think this part of downtown, which is really a hole in the doughnut, could be used to create this special district," says local architect Tim Anderson of Shreiber/Anderson Associates.
The idea was panned at a recent neighborhood meeting (see Madison.gov, 9/17/2009) because the current neighborhood is so iconic. Gary Peterson of Sustainable Services says, "That charm is totally based on students living there. But students won't always live there." He says the area will continue to deteriorate, as students shift to nicer housing.
The architects toyed with several other ideas, including making Wisconsin Avenue more of a grand entrance to the Capitol, developing a trail along Lake Mendota between the UW campus and James Madison Park, and figuring out ways to make downtown denser while remaining friendly to people at the street level.
"We need much greater density downtown," says Doug Kozel with Kee Architecture. "Density is what makes cities vital and work."
The next big public hearing on the Downtown Plan will likely come in January.