The plan to transform the 100 block of State Street calls for many drastic changes, but the most important one to the developers is a private plaza and garden on Fairchild Street across from the Overture Center and Central Library.
The plan - proposed by the Overture Center's benefactors, Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland - calls for six buildings to be razed, with facades on the State Street side to be reconstructed or preserved. An office building would be built fronting Fairchild Street. In front of it, where the so-called Stark Building, 122 W. Mifflin St., is now located, would be a private plaza. This space would include plantings and possibly seating for a restaurant, but it would not be public.
The rough concept for the plaza was developed by Overture architect Cesar Pelli, says George Austin, the project's manager. Austin says the developers - whom he calls "the sponsors" - are very attached to the plaza concept.
"The sponsors feel very strongly that it is an amenity for the property, that it works well in relation to the buildings around it, and that it creates a special place within the urban fabric," says Austin.
Others hate the idea. Architect Elizabeth Cwik calls the plaza "dead space."
"Intersections like this don't need open space, they need space that's active and alive. It would make a fantastic restaurant," she says. "What I'm hearing is they want to open up this corner to provide a view. That makes sense if you're speeding by in a car, but not if you're a pedestrian."
Working with the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, Cwik presented an alternate vision for the block, which would preserve all the buildings, putting a rooftop café on top of 122 Mifflin St.
Others have asked why the plaza is being designed as a private space, without any seating. At a neighborhood meeting on the project, one person asked if the design was being made with the homeless in mind, who often hang out in front of the library.
Ald. Mike Verveer, who hasn't yet made up his mind on the project, says that the private plaza will be more "attractive from across the street at the Overture Center or sitting at the [proposed] restaurant eating, not so much if you're walking down the sidewalk. The plaza certainly seems to be a linchpin for the developers, something they are very wedded to and don't seem to want to compromise on."
Library project under bid
Madison got an early Christmas present last Friday, when it opened bids for the renovation of the Central Library building on West Mifflin Street.
The city had estimated the project would cost $21,225,000, but the low bid, from J.H. Findorff & Son, came in at $18,875,000. The company was one of five that bid.
Project manager Brian Cooper says this is good news, but advises against popping the champagne now. "We have an existing building, and that always opens itself up to unknowns," he says. "We never know what we're going to find behind the walls."
And other parts of the project have yet to go out for bid, including furnishings, signage and audiovisual equipment.
But if bids continue to come in lower than expected, the city will either save money or be able to upgrade the project.
"It seems like the bidding community is beating our estimates. Things could change over the course of the year," Cooper says. "I'd like to say in the end that we'll save money, but I'll reserve that until late next year, when we'll be past all of our big budgeting risks."
Dane County Board elections
Spring elections for the Dane County Board of Supervisors will involve eight open seats, including two in downtown Madison. At least another eight incumbents will face challenges, though Board chair Scott McDonell says "that could change in two weeks."
Supv. Barbara Vedder is not running for reelection on the east side, and Supv. Analiese Eicher is giving up her seat in the heavily student-populated district around UW-Madison. Heidi Wegleitner and Adam Plotkin are running for Vedder's seat, and Leland Pan is running for Eicher's.
Some board members are forced to run in new districts because of redistricting. Kyle Richmond, who holds the 27th District on the west side, will now be running for the 4th District, held by Brett Hulsey, who is not running for reelection. Don Imhoff, who currently serves the far-east-side District 3, is now located in District 17, where he'll face Jeff Pertl.
The filing deadline to run is Jan. 3. McDonell says he's confident progressives will maintain control of the board, but he'd like to pick up a few seats to prevent the group of 10 conservatives from continuing to block borrowing measures.
The primary will be held on Feb. 21 and the general election on April 3.
Holiday giving down
Reductions in public workers' take-home pay by Gov. Scott Walker appear to be having a trickle-down effect on charitable donations.
Partners in Giving, a combined charity of state, UW-Madison and UW Hospital employees, has been collecting money from employees since 1973, to give to 520 charities. Last year, 8,500 employees and retirees donated about $2.8 million. The group hopes to raise the same amount this year.
Laurie Wermter, a reference librarian at the UW, says she gives every year but can't this year because of cuts to her pay and benefits. "With cuts made by Gov. Walker I felt that I couldn't give, and apparently a lot of people are in the same boat."
The campaign ended its solicitation efforts on Nov. 30. At that time, employees had pledged $240,000 less than they had at the same time in 2010, according to Nick Wood, a campaign volunteer.
So far this campaign, workers have pledged a combined $1.7 million, he says, but he adds, "We receive pledge forms well into next year."