Jason Tish is squeamish about using fighting words.
But it's clear the proposal for the $10 million development project on the 100 block of State Street has his organization, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, up in arms.
"I'm trying to dance around the battle language," says Tish, the Trust's executive director. "We don't look at these things as battles or fights. They're conversations."
The stakes are high for the organization. The proposal by Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland calls for the demolition of six buildings on State, Fairchild and Mifflin streets. The faade of one of these buildings - the historic Castle & Doyle, at 125 State St. - would be preserved. Two others would be reconstructed.
A glass office building would be constructed facing Fairchild, across from the Overture Center. There would also be a small, private garden plaza.
Says Tish: "It would be a pretty big hit to the historic character of State Street. The Overture Center has already taken one block of that and replaced it with a sleek modern building. This proposal would erode another block of it."
As a result, the Trust has been especially vocal in organizing the opposition. In the recent fight over the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment, it was much more in the background.
"The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation is leading the charge [in the 100 block]," says downtown Ald. Mike Verveer. "It seems to me that is one of the biggest campaigns they've taken on in quite some time."
This is in part because of Tish, whose position is relatively new. He was hired as executive director at the end of 2009, when the Edgewater fight was already under way. Before Tish arrived, the organization was staffed only by volunteers and limited in what it could do.
But with a full-time staff member, the group is able to play a more active role. It has even produced a counterproposal for the 100 block, one that preserves all of the buildings.
At 7 p.m. on Jan. 26, it will present its vision in a community forum at Madison College, 211 N. Carroll St. Verveer also hopes to organize another public hearing on the project by the end of the month. The developers are expected to submit their formal applications on Jan. 9.
For the Trust, the proposal is bigger than any one building. The group wants to maintain State Street's historic character.
"It is an issue we feel very strongly about," Tish says. "It's where every visitor to Madison comes, and it's our premier historic district. It needs to be treated as a cohesive historic district."