As reported late last week by Dean Mosiman of the Wisconsin State Journal, the Ho-Chunk Nation is proposing a large development on Madison’s southeast side near Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison.
(On a side note, I neglected to mention Mosiman’s solid work covering the mayoral race when I did my survey of local media coverage a few weeks ago. It was not an intentional omission — my apologies.)
Getting back to the Ho-Chunk news, the new development could potentially include an entertainment venue and sports complex. This is an opportunity to take advantage of one of Madison’s great untapped strengths — the I-90/94 interchange. The vast majority of Wisconsin’s population lives in communities within a two-and-a-half-hour drive of that interchange: La Crosse, Wausau, the Fox Valley, Janesville, Waukesha, Milwaukee and Kenosha, to name a few.
While there are a lot of hotels near the interstate, there’s currently nothing of interest along our interstate exits, other than East Towne Mall.
Madison is centrally located, but we have very little development in this tourist-accessible part of the city. Instead, we make visitors navigate the often-intimidating Beltline or the maze of one-way streets to reach our major attractions.
Don’t get me wrong. I love our downtown, and I love the myriad of visitors it attracts. But it doesn’t offer an experience that everyone wants. The WIAA tournament continues to come to Madison because there is a mystique about having your high schooler play in the same space that the Badgers play. Other events don’t have comparable perks.
Madison can be a confusing town for drivers, something I forget having lived here for more than a decade. But even if you know your way around, the constant construction obliterates landmarks. My former program at UW-Madison used to host a yearly convention — in the Wisconsin Dells, because when we surveyed attendees, they complained about Madison traffic and parking costs. They didn’t care about the unique dining experiences around the Capitol Square. That’s right — they were so desperate to avoid driving in downtown Madison that they were willing to eat whatever passes for food in the Dells.
Events at Alliant Energy Center show that parts of Madison beyond downtown can be a regional attraction.
The possibilities for the Ho-Chunk development are many. The development could potentially host regional sports tournaments, the sorts of concerts that don’t play the Majestic or Orpheum, statewide conferences. There’s a proposed museum that could attract class trips. All of these can help book rooms in those many hotels along the interstate. They can provide jobs for people in the southeast portion of our city and McFarland — areas that could really use an economic boost.
The Ho-Chunk Nation doesn’t get enough credit for its attempts to diversify its economy beyond gaming revenues. But this project has the potential to be a big win for the Ho-Chunk Nation and the city of Madison.