The Overture Center wouldn't exist without the generosity of Jerry Frautschi, whose original $205 million donation allowed it to be built. This summer, Frautschi was once again the man of Overture's hour when he helped put together a deal to erase the center's debt - and led a group that kicked in $15 million to make it happen.
But the city's Landmarks Commission is worried about what Frautschi may be planning for buildings nearby. A group known as Central Focus LLC has in recent years bought several properties on and around the 100 block of State Street for millions more than their assessed value. (See Madison.gov, 12/10/2009.)
Many believe Frautschi is behind the group, providing the cash. He did not return a call for comment. Says Overture Foundation president George Austin, "Whether [Frautschi] is involved or not, I don't think you'll get an answer."
The only person listed in connection with Central Focus, developer Marty Rifken, has refused to say what the plans are for the buildings or who his partners are.
Landmarks member Stu Levitan is worried. "I'm afraid there may be an effort to take down some or all of that block for a plaza for the Overture Center," he says. "Regardless of where the money comes from, someone's got a plan for that block. You don't spend two or three times the value of a building just because you want to operate a shoe store. Clearly Marty Rifken and parties unknown have big plans."
The landmarks ordinance doesn't allow for protection of most of the buildings on that block, which Levitan calls "an architectural Disneyland. You've got four or five distinct styles in one block. Trying to preserve it as a historic district is something we should have done years ago."
Levitan doesn't see the "political will" to make it a historic district. But he thinks officials need to take notice. "This block is under threat," he says. Demolishing buildings on it "potentially changes the whole fabric of State Street and the Square."