Supporters of the project on the 100 block of State Street say that Fairchild Street, as it exists now, is decrepit and a little spooky, in need of livening up. Critics counter that a private plaza proposed for the street corner would be "dead space" and fail to achieve the developers' goals.
What exactly is a dead zone? "I don't know that there is a technical definition of 'dead zone,'" says city planner Bill Fruhling. "Generally, it's a longer blank faade of buildings along sidewalks, where people are walking, without activity, and there's no doors."
Fruhling, who oversaw development of the city's downtown plan, doesn't offer any other examples of dead space downtown. However, he says that the Capitol Square's outer loop has been neglected by the city from a pedestrian standpoint. That's especially evident when buses are detoured to the outer loop, where people are uncomfortable waiting for buses, Fruhling says.
Developers of the 100 block proposal insist that replacing the Fairchild building at the corner of Mifflin and Fairchild with a private plaza is what will enliven Fairchild Street, offering a contrast to the buildings around it. Several architects disagree.
Architect Mark Smith, a former member of the city's Urban Design Commission, says removing buildings is bad urban design.
"Everything I was ever taught and have experienced makes it pretty clear that cities and urban areas are built of blocks, just like building blocks," he says. "Those blocks need to be complete and contiguous on all sides. They should not have these dents and gashes. I describe these conditions as missing teeth. You want to have them replaced.
"Part of the argument is that removing the building is somehow going to generate activity," he adds. "What generates activity are people."
Architect Elizabeth Cwik, who is working with the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation in opposing the State Street proposal, offers a classic example of dead space in Madison: the plaza in front of the state's GEF building where Webster, Doty and King streets meet, across from the Great Dane.
"It's just kind of windswept, barren," she says of the plaza. "That's what happens when buildings don't address the urban fabric."
Cwik believes the proposed private garden will have a similar effect on the 100 block.
Cwik adds that if the current block is dead, it's because of the Overture Center. "Fairchild wasn't dead until Overture killed it," she says. "Before Overture was built, there was an operating department store, Dotty's, a bar, a bank," she says. They had all these thriving businesses."