I know some folks have been waiting for me to comment on a big downtown development project, stalled for years and given up for dead, which just got a new life.
I refer, of course, to the St. Raphael's Cathedral site on Fairchild Street. The Catholic diocese has recently started construction on a park-like "Stations of the Cross" on the block that has been vacant since the cathedral burned down in 2005.
The park (built around the Stations of the Cross devotional series) will be like the labyrinth that was installed at a city park on the northeast side a few years ago. Essentially, it's an opportunity to walk in a pleasant setting and contemplate.
At the Stations of the Cross park, the church would like you to contemplate the final days of Jesus Christ, but if you're a Madison alder you could walk over there and contemplate the capital budget or TIF policy. If you're Republican or Democratic legislators, you could walk over there and work out your differences. (Okay. Okay. Nobody's promising miracles here.) Point is, contemplation is a good thing.
Like everything in the city, the design details are important. This won't work if it's exposed to the street on two sides as the site is now. The church would have to make a pretty significant investment in screening (walls, bushes or berms) to make it a comfortable private space to spend time in. Tree plantings probably won't be considered because this is intended to be a temporary use.
I would have preferred that the Diocese of Madison give up on the grand cathedral, which isn't really fitting with the desires of their liberal Catholic constituents anyway. Maybe designate St. Paul's on campus as the new cathedral (it's being rebuilt), and develop the St. Raphael's site into a mixed-use building, maybe with some senior housing.
But the church, especially this diocese these days, works in mysterious ways, and if it's a religious labyrinth they want, well, it's much better than what's there now. If they can find a way to give the site the privacy it needs to be successful it might be a nice addition to the downtown.