The blue-shaded area shows the footprint -- and height -- of the potential development, which includes several of downtown Madison's oldest buildings.
Urban Land Interests, one of Madison's premier developers, is looking into redeveloping a block on the Capitol Square that is home to the historic American Exchange Bank and several popular restaurants, including the Old Fashioned. The company has twice met with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to discuss its plans for North Pinckney Street, but won't divulge many details.
"It's not something we're going public with," says Paul Muench, the company's head of commercial development. "The only thing I can tell you at this point is we had some initial questions for the city about what we could do there."
Plans shared with the city show that Urban Land is looking at building eight or nine stories of mainly office space, with ground-level retail and five levels of underground parking. The plans include developing a surface parking lot, the bank and several other buildings along North Pinckney (see map).
Muench says that if underground parking is sought, Urban Land Interests would ask for a public subsidy. He denies speculation that Urban Land wants to tear down the American Exchange Bank, a Madison landmark built in 1871 that it bought and renovated several years ago.
"It's an iconic and beautiful old building," he says. "It's a building we love, and we're not going to tear it down."
But according to mayoral aide George Twigg, Urban Land initially proposed demolishing the bank and Cieslewicz objected. "It's not something he would support," says Twigg.
But the mayor likes what the company did with Block 89, on East Main Street, a redevelopment that won rave reviews: "[It] was a nice project," says Twigg, "so the mayor's interested in hearing what they have to say."
Muench says it's too early to say whether any buildings would be torn down. Urban Land Interests only owns the bank (with an addition) and the parking lot; it would have to acquire several other properties. "We don't even know what the footprint of the project would be."
Many of the buildings date to the 1800s. The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has begun working on getting some designated as city landmarks. "We would oppose taking down those buildings that house Harvest and The Old Fashioned," says Joe Lusson, the trust's former president.
Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer generally supports revamping the block, especially the surface parking lot. But, he says, "I'm not in favor of getting rid of the restaurants. I'm not interested in putting anyone out of business."
Muench says the company will present a proposal to the city early next year. And although the block may already seem successful, he says more could be done: "The parking lot is a major part of that block. That's a gross underutilization of a great downtown infill site."
Co-op loses heart
For the past five years, Nora Manheim has volunteered a few hours a week at the Willy Street Co-op. In return, she gets a 15% discount on her groceries. But as of Dec. 1, the co-op is ending its Owner Participation program.
"I wasn't very happy to hear about it," says Manheim. "It's the heart of the co-op being a co-op!"
Sarah Dahl, the co-op's human resources manager, says the store acted because other co-ops around the country had problems with similar programs: "Our attorney told us, you'd be best off avoiding any potential problems and getting rid of this."
The U.S. Department of Labor has looked into whether co-ops with these programs are subject to the minimum wage law. And the co-op could have to pay worker's comp if a volunteer is injured on the job. But Dahl confirms that, in 20 years of running the program, the Willy Street Co-op has never had a problem. About 25 people now participate.
"It's not like something specific happened," complains Manheim, who is upset that the co-op did not tell members of the change. "It's completely under the table."
Dahl says an item about the change will appear in next month's newsletter - after the program has already ended.
"In this kind of situation, when we feel we could be legally liable, there really isn't time to check with the members first," she says, adding, "We're just as upset about [ending the program] as everyone else."
Stop the robocalling!
State Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) wants to ban robocalls - those annoying, computer-generated calls from political campaigns that deliver a prerecorded message and whose use, he says, "increased dramatically in the last election."
Black has heard from people who reportedly received as many as 30 calls a day. "That's not just an intrusion on privacy, but starting to be harassment," says Black.
He also bemoans such "dirty tricks" as bombarding people with calls and making calls seem to come from a different campaign. "People get so disgusted with them, it influences the outcome of the election," says Black. "Sometimes they use it to jam the phones so their opponent can't call."
Black's bill (AB-311) to ban the calls passed a state Senate committee last week. It has yet to come before the full Senate or Assembly.
Susan Armacost, legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, says banning the calls would infringe on free speech. And she criticizes Black for trying to protect people from being irritated. "Don't they also get irritated when they have 400 campaign flyers in their mailbox? Or when they watch TV and there's a constant siege of advertisements?" she asks. "People who get the call can just delete it."
Armacost notes that political organizations are exempt from state and federal Do Not Call lists because this is considered political speech. She says Wisconsin Right to Life uses robocalls to issue alerts about important votes and to disseminate info on candidates. "If you want to mobilize people, you have a right to do that."
Every day while commuting to Madison, Rich Albertoni drives past Badger Prairie Health Care Center in Verona, where Blain's Farm & Fleet is clearing land for a 99,000-square-foot store. The new store is next to an old county cemetery where 500 poor and mentally ill residents were buried about 100 years ago.
"Recently, I've noticed that the diggers are getting sloppy," says Albertoni, a Verona resident and Isthmus contributor.
The cemetery has no individually marked graves, only a memorial and some stone posts marking the boundaries. The store's construction crew has dug out a road that appears to cross into the cemetery in one spot. And workers have piled a huge mound of dirt next to the cemetery.
"I think it's an issue of respect for an old graveyard," says Albertoni. "You just get the sense that big-box stores come in and bulldoze your community history away."
Renee Tarnutzer, a spokesperson for Farm & Fleet, says the builders are operating "within the confines of our property. We realize the cemetery is there, and we're being respectful of that."
Jack Nelson, administrator of Badger Prairie, which owns the cemetery, says the builders are about 20-30 feet away, and no graves are being disturbed. "There are lots of people watching."
Now they tell us
Wisconsin State Journal headline from last Sunday, Nov. 18, 10 days after the Legislature passed a controversial cable franchise bill that critics have been deriding for months: "Cable bill may not be a boon to consumers."