Tonight, the Madison Parks Commission will consider what to do with the historic Garver Feed Mill on the city's near east side. I hope they decide to save it.
That won't come cheap, though, as noted in a very thorough and clear report (PDF) by city staff.
It would cost as much $9 million to stabilize the entire building just to make it ready for redevelopment, and I wouldn't recommend that. But city staff presented options for saving the most historically significant and useful parts of the building, and those costs run in the much more reasonable $2 to $4 million range.
Those costs are consistent with ideas to convert some of the building to a ruins garden. I suggested that in an earlier post, but architect and neighborhood resident Lou Host Jablonski has put a good deal of effort into developing the concept in a really exciting way.
Based on a story in this morning's Wisconsin State Journal, it appears that Mayor Paul Soglin would commit up to $1.1 million in city support for a project that would save at least part of Garver. That would equal what it would cost the city to tear down the building if no reuse were found for it. I had hoped that the building could have been redeveloped without any public dollars, but that was in better economic times, and I think the mayor's proposal is a reasonable one now.
Putting a little over a million dollars on the table and not trying to save the entire building might be just enough to induce a developer or two or three to come forward with some exciting ideas in a new request for proposals process. But the city should be ready to kick in a little more if necessary. That's because redevelopment of the building should end up producing new tax revenues that could justify a somewhat higher contribution. In addition, there would be the intangible benefits of a great new public space that it's hard to put a number value on.
What we do know is that time is running out. If we don't act soon, a beautiful building with an important story to tell about Madison's industrial history will be lost forever.