Monday, June 30, 2008

The fight for James Madison Park

Thanks to Fearful Symmetries for pointing out this interesting little fight:
What happened to Jay Rath's rant that he posted this weekend up at POST? In it he was critical of this editorial by the WSJ regarding the use of land around James Madison Park. By "critical" I mean he basically told the WSJ editorial folks to go fuck themselves and to let downtown residents determine their own fate.
I went ahead and dug up the cached version of Rath's post to Post, which you can read in its entirety here. Basically, he strongly chastises the editorial for misrepresenting facts (for instance, that "the public can't access" certain parts of the park, which they can, in fact, do) and for basically arguing on behalf of the one lone voice that wants this sale to go ahead:

So far as I can tell, there's only one voice arguing for the sale of the property and nearby homes: the developer, Urban Land Interests. This is the same company that demands that the last portion of historic buildings on the Capitol Square be demolished (The Old Fashioned, L'Etoile and such), so it can put in a nearly block-sized development. This is the same developer that wants to demolish the oldest commercial building on the Square, the American Exchange Bank. This is the same developer that agreed to sell the Bartell Theatre property to the Bartell trust and Overture, and then reneged (because it wanted to demolish and put in a massive development), until forced by courts to comply with its own earlier written agreements; I reported all that, for Isthmus.

Yeah, I trust Urban Land. About as far as I can throw them.

Ald. Brenda Konkel has also weighed in on this bit of controversy.

It's strange that Rath's post on the subject appears to have since been removed from the website. I'm not sure if we should read some greater conspiracy into it, or if Rath himself decided to take it down for one reason or another.

Beyond that, however, those arguing against the WSJ article are all making good points. I, too, can't help but wonder why on Earth anyone would think the construction of yet more new condo developments would be good for Madison? Several current projects are already stalled due to the ever-tanking housing market, and that coupled with the general economic downturn doesn't exactly scream "Build more condos!" to me.

Why are we so intent on moving and/or demolishing the few historic structures we have in this town and this (relatively young) country anyway? And furthermore, why must every last scrap of undeveloped land go under the knife of "progress"? There's a major societal benefit in having more green spaces, parks, and just plain empty land. So how about instead of tearing stuff down and putting in yet more condos, we revitalize the existing downtown houses? There has been a plan floated in the city to create a fund to encourage families, etc., to buy older homes in the downtown area, so that if the current trend of students moving into newer housing and out of the old apartments continue, we won't be left with a slum. That's the kind of thing we should be encouraging. Leave the park alone.


George H. said...

Tend to agree with you on this one, again, Emily, and saving those houses is important. But as to the dustup between Jay and the Powers of Obfuscation, remember there is a very important distinction between an "article" and an "editorial," which is the object of Jay's skewering. Reporters are touchy on that.
George Hesselberg

Emily said...

I'm not sure I catch your meaning, George. I pointed out that Jay's bit was just a blog post, and that he was talking about an editorial in the WSJ, not an article. Is that what you're talking about?

Dustin Christopher said...

An interesting story I've been following closely myself, mostly as I'll be moving into the neighborhood come August. Obviously, the EIGHT YEAR OLD in me screams, "Cash in and build a swimming pier with the money..." Well, so does the 23-year-old, honestly. Because I like to swim...

But there's more to it than that. The houses they're talking about selling are getting put to zero use right now. And, historical though it may be, you don't have to look far to find someone who will tell you the Lincoln School building is a drafty old dinosaur, not very pleasant to live in and better suited as... well, a school from a hundred years ago.

I've never been a proponent of progress for progress's sake, but in a city like Madison, sandwiched between massive lakes on an itty-bitty isthmus, urban infill is key to keeping things vibrant. I'm sure I'll know more about the issue and feel strong enough to pick a side come August and September, but for the time being, I'll say the proposals for improving the park by liquidating some of its unused assets have enough merit to warrant consideration.

Jonathan Mertzig said...

An important point that alot of people seem to be missing regarding ULI's hopes to buy the land under the Lincoln School is that they're not buying it to "put up more condos". Nothing of significance will happen to the building itself. They're merely taking what is an apartment complex on leased land and turning an already long-ago completed development into owner-occupied units... which as the WSJ pointed out, simply increases the value of the existing units (which are in a protected historical building) to the city's tax rolls. I'm usually pretty skeptical of endorsing more condo developments, but this seems like a no-brainer.

Emily said...

JM - I hear what you're both saying, and I should be honest and say that my mind isn't totally made up about this. Mostly because I don't have all of the facts.

As for the Lincoln School building, I'd be all for someone restoring it and maybe modernizing it a bit, but from what the editorial noted ("Urban Land Interests has wanted to buy the land so that it can turn the apartments into condominiums") I'm a little worried that they intend to change the place drastically, and build out further into what has been park. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Urban infill is good, but we need to do it conscientiously. Just saying "put condos in!" won't solve everything.

The Lost Albatross