I got a lot of great ideas out of the winter meeting of the Mayor's Innovation Project a couple of weeks ago. Here's another: enliven Union Corners with temporary fixtures until a permanent development can occur.
I bought Union Corners (the site of the old Kohl's store and environs on the corner of Milwaukee and East Washington Avenue) on behalf of the city for a song a few years back. It had been the focus of a beautiful redevelopment vision conceived by one of Madison's best and most skilled developers, Todd McGrath.
But Todd's vision ran into the teeth of the Great Recession. After working in an unprecedented close way with the surrounding neighborhoods to arrive at a wonderful mixed-use plan, Todd couldn't make it happen in the dismal economy. The bank had for all intents and purposes foreclosed, and I was able to pick it up for the city at a fraction of its original cost.
But now it just sits there waiting for a new developer. So, what to do in the meantime?
Had I been re-elected, I was planning to suggest a series of fun, temporary events there. It turns out that that's exactly the kind of thing that is happening all across the country in progressive cities with similar sites.
San Francisco, for example, is filling the corridor of a torn down freeway with shops and restaurants installed in shipping containers while the city waits for the recession to relent and permanent development to take its place.
I toured a similar kind of low-cost start-up concept in Madison's sister city Obihiro, Japan a few years ago, called "Yatai." This is a series of small restaurants (essentially food carts with a little seating) on a narrow street. It's tremendously popular as people go from small venue to small venue. And it's a great way for micro businesses to get a start. (My aide at the time, Andrew Statz, accompanied me on that trip, and impressed all of Japan by consuming the most potent folk-alcohol available on the island and pronouncing it "smooth." He's still legend in Obihiro.)
So, the idea for Union Corners is summer backyard games. Madison could host the Summer Backyard Games World Championships at Union Corners. We'd have croquet, volleyball, badminton, horseshoes, that game where you throw a bean bag at a target (whatever it's called), and so on. Maybe we'd even have a Sheepshead tournament under a tent. Beer would be served. Food carts would be there.
I like it. What do you think?