Graaskamp’s Great Rail Corridor Study

Jim Graaskamp was the most memorable  person I’ve met in four decades of reporting. If only I could find a misplaced file that has transcripts of  of our interviews!

Jim was passionate and incredibly articulate. His opinions were anchored in an  encyclopedic understanding of real estate dynamics. A patient teacher, he could explain them to the densest of reporters. Best of all, he was fearless and gave great quotes.

That Jim Graaskamp was also quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair only added to his legend. An oft-told story, to the point of  becoming apocryphal, concerned him being named as Wisconsin’s handicapped person of the  year.   One of his students supposedly exclaimed: Who knew?!

Did I mention how brilliant Graaskmap was? In this column for Isthmus, I recall one of his great studies for the city of Madison. It begins:

The James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate can be found on the fourth floor of the UW-Madison School of Business building. To the right of the entrance is a montage of drawings of the legendary professor, who died in 1988, interspersed with several rubrics that have guided generations of real estate developers, appraisers and analysts.

Among them is a message that resonates for Madison today: “The successful real estate deal is nothing more than a series of crises tied together by a critical path.”

Mired in a rough patch of downtown redevelopment, City Hall has had a hard time managing these crises. In recent years, major development proposals — Union Corners, Avenue 800, the Fiore library plan – have collapsed after exhaustive negotiations.

But even more troubling is Madison’s loss of that “critical path” in guiding the central city redevelopment. That path, I would suggest, should lead to the largely vacant east rail corridor, almost 100 acres and hands down the best spot to create the jobs that should be at the heart of a serious downtown strategy….

Read more here.

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