суббота, 15 сентября 2012 г.


Byline: PAT SCHNEIDER The Capital Times pschneider@madison.com

When south side residents and business owners tucked in knee to knee in a newly decorated meeting room at the Villager Mall to discuss redevelopment of the tired shopping center, it was the location of a planned new library branch that stirred the most discussion.

No doubt, the renovated mall would include a new and larger library space, the 80 people who turned out Monday for a community meeting agreed.

But should the new South Madison Branch be part of a new Urban League of Greater Madison building out on South Park Street, a symbolic landmark of a resurgent south side? Or would the kids using it be safer in a larger, refurbished version of the current branch, squeezed into the 1960s Villager building where many of the current social service tenants plan to stay?

Longtime Ald. Tim Bruer has heard both arguments again and again since the city's Community Development Authority purchased the mall for $10 million in 2005, he told the group, whom he set fidgeting with a rambling recap of the mall's history.

Why not retain the 'family feel' of a library amid social services offices, instead of isolating kids using the library in the middle of a parking lot next to the hazards of Park Street? asked Paula Rogge. What about street noise disturbing tquiet zone? others asked.

Library administrators have supported the location in a new building on Park Street, city officials said.

Locating the branch in a new, highly visible building 'represents the city's commitment to the neighborhood,' said Stuart Levitan, chairman of the city's Community Development Authority.

City officials said Monday that the location of the new library, now planned as part of the Urban League project, is not set in stone. That the mall redevelopment will be a much smaller project than envisioned three years ago is certain.

Instead of 283,000 square feet of finished space, 170,000 square feet is envisioned, said Mark Olinger, director of the Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development. He attributed the change in direction to the wishes of current social service tenants of the mall to stay, as well as limitations posed by parking.

The city's plan calls for the development of a new building in 2008-2009 by the Urban League that would house itself, the library and Planned Parenthood, as well as re-engineering the front of the existing mall atrium to accommodate about 30,000 square feet of retail space.

The city has budgeted $9 million for the library and retail space in this phase; the Urban League has raised 70 percent of its $3.3 million fundraising goal for a new building, president and CEO Scott Gray said.

A second phase of the project eyes development of another building at the north end of the site to house Access Community Health Center, which is now inside the mall, and the nearby Wingra Clinic. Development of that facility would stretch the limit on surface lot parking capacity, Olinger said. Construction of a parking ramp would be an expensive undertaking that neighbors might oppose for esthetic and safety reasons, he added.

While some residents involved in the planning are grumbling about the reduced amount of commercial retail space, others say access to the library and other services for neighborhood residents is most important.

'People have to have the ability to get to services,' said Richard Jones, pastor of the nearby Mt. Zion Baptist Church. 'That's the big deal.'

Lindsey Lee, owner of the nearby Cargo Coffee, said the city is probably best equipped to provide a place for social services, not commercial development. Improvements at Villager Mall will spur private investment in commercial redevelopment along Park Street, he said.

'The worst thing you could possibly do is overbuild and have a vacant storefront,' said Jim Bower, a consultant on the project. The trick, he said, is attracting the right number of right uses to the site.



Where the South Madison Branch of the Madison Public Library (background,

at center) would be located following the redevelopment of the Villager Mall

was at the top of residents' minds in a public discussion Monday.