For years, there have been rumors that Overture benefactor Jerome Frautschi was buying up property in the 100 block of State Street for a major development.
It was known that a secretive group called Central Focus LLC was buying property in the block well over assessed value, but Frautschi, as recently as several months ago, denied in an interview with Isthmus any knowledge of the plans.
Last week, though, Frautschi and his wife, Pleasant, unveiled a $10 million proposal (PDF) to the Wisconsin State Journal that would demolish several buildings on State, Fairchild and Mifflin streets. The faades of three of the buildings would be preserved and another rebuilt. In their place would go a new stone and glass building, with a first-floor restaurant and upper-level office space. A garden courtyard would sit across Fairchild from the Overture Center. The new property would be managed by Frautschi's son, Grant, with the net income from property rental - projected at $200,000 a year - going to the Overture Center.
In announcing plans for the project, Jerry Frautschi said the Overture Foundation purchased the properties to protect the block from inappropriate development. "By placing them in the new Block 100 Foundation, we ensure that they will complement Overture Center and the new Central Library, and provide financial support for it long into the future."
Supporters say the area around Overture needs a "variety of quality experiences including shops and restaurants" in order to be vibrant.
Some, including Mayor Paul Soglin, welcome the proposal. Others are leery, not just of losing historic buildings on the city's most famous street, but of how Frautschi has proceeded with his plans.
"They had time to go to the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board before they had time to go to the historic preservation planner," says Stu Levitan, co-chair of the city's Landmarks Commission. "Interesting priorities."
Levitan is troubled that the group bought a building that is a historic landmark - 120 W. Mifflin - with "the intention of tearing it down."
Jason Tish, the executive director of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, says he wants to learn more about the plans, but notes, "It appears that the gap between what they want to do to the block and what we want is pretty wide." He hopes the gap can be bridged.
Tish compares State Street to New Orleans' Bourbon Street and Memphis' Beale Street. "Every visitor to this town finds their way to the Capitol Square and then down State Street," he says. "If what they see is a Disney-fied streetscape of fake architecture, they're not going to have a good impression of Madison."
Levitan says he's waiting for a formal presentation before passing judgment, but adds that the Landmarks Commission will have several tough issues to grapple with, including whether preserving only faades is acceptable. The prolonged debate over the Edgewater Hotel, by comparison, might start looking like a cakewalk.
"On top of the analytical difficulties, you've got that political pressure," he adds. "People with big money will bring big pressure to bear."
14 people past last call
Scott, who asked that his real name not be used, is miffed by a new city ordinance that makes it a crime for stores to sell alcohol to him and 13 other people. "It sucks," he says. "I've only got one ticket."
Nevertheless, last Sunday afternoon, Scott had no trouble finding alcohol. Sitting on a bench on State Street near the Capitol Square, he sipped from a 16-ounce Budweiser while talking to a reporter about the new restriction.
The list of "Known Habitually Intoxicated Persons," which includes names and photographs, was distributed to stores last week. If stores sell to anyone on the list they face fines of up to $1,000. Bars are exempt from the ordinance.
Scott says he drinks about every other day. He doesn't think the new law will stop him from getting alcohol.
Jeff Coleman, a former homeless man who is not on the no-sell list, says the law clearly targets the homeless population. Only two people on the list have permanent addresses.
"College kids walk around with an open beer and nobody does anything," says Coleman. "If [a homeless guy] walks around with a beer, three squad cars will pull over."
"It's kind of like taking away your civil rights," he adds.
Mark Woulf, Madison's alcohol policy coordinator, denies the new law targets the homeless. There were young people with a high number of violations who came close to the threshold but didn't hit it - six in the past 180 days - to be put on the list. Woulf says the "Scott" Isthmus interviewed actually has nine alcohol-related violations, including ones for having an open container and depositing human waste.
Those on the list can appeal to be removed after 180 days without a violation; they're automatically removed after a year without incident. Still, Woulf expects the list will grow, not shrink.
Mayor introduces 2012 budget
Mayor Soglin says the operating budget he released Tuesday is "not sustainable for any extended period of time."
If the current fiscal situation with a recession and reduced state aid continues, the city will have to drastically scale back services. But Soglin opted to make do for now, rather than "dismantle the machine" that is city government.
Earlier this year, the city was looking at a $33 million gap in funding. Soglin says it was able to close that through a series of contract renegotiations, refinancing and service cuts. The proposed budget is $250.4 million, which is slightly higher than this year's $248 million. It includes a property tax hike of 3.24%.
In closing the gap, Soglin reneged on a promise the Common Council made last year to fund the Overture Center to the tune of $2 million a year. Soglin put the city's contribution at $1.35 million for 2012.
"I believe the private sector can make that up," Soglin says. "Whereas the private sector can't help us in other areas, such as snow and ice removal."
Tom Carto, Overture's executive director, says the arts center planned on a 5% reduction in the city subsidy, but what Soglin proposes is too much to make up. He said he would look to the council to restore the "legally binding commitment with the city."
"It's about a 33% cut," Carto says of the proposed funding. "That's much more than what [city departments] were asked to do."