Posted tagged ‘downtown Madison’

The Travails of State Street

June 27, 2021

This three-part series detailing the Sturm und Drang that consumed most of the small businesses of State Street became my major writing project for winter 2020-21. In Business was nice enough to publish it online. You can access the stories here.


Helen And Toni’s Excellent Tech Adventures

August 13, 2013

This edition of my Isthmus tech column hits several topics, including  web startups by former state Rep. Helen Kelda Roys and serial entrepreneur Toni Sikes. Here’s a chunk:

Roys’ passion and hard work (she knocked on more than 20,000 doors in her first election) are two of the reasons venture capitalist Troy Vosseller cites for his investor group, the well-regarded (and oddly spelled)gener8tor, backing Roys’ venture. OpenHomes offers a software platform that connects homebuyers and sellers in a way that promises to save big bucks for both.

Cofounder Scott Rouse, who worked at Shoutlet, StudyBlue and Asthmapolis, handles the tech end. Roys, who is an attorney and real estate agent, knows the business end.

“I started selling real estate at 19,” she says. “I was in college in New York City and had to earn money.”

Roys wound up graduating from New York University in three years (her major: drama, politics and cultural studies) and then attended law school at UW-Madison.

The OpenHomes game plan proved beguiling enough to attract a $20,000 gener8tor investment and three months of mentoring from the edgy investment group, which runs “accelerator” shops in Madison and Milwaukee for its portfolio of startups.

To read more, please  go here.

These are the other items:

Madison’s Web Future

October 19, 2012

In recent years, as the Great Recession locked down the economy and the Republican surge rolled back  the perks of public employment, I’ve wondered how a quintessential government town like Madison could reinvent itself and  prosper. More and more, I find myself thinking that  the young entrepreneurs in the city’s tech industry will lead the way. For this story in Isthmus, I look at a Web-development outfit called Bendyworks.  I make this case:

 Information technology companies like Bendyworks could be the stars of downtown Madison’s 21st-century economy.

“The tech community in Madison is exploding,” says [co-owner Stephen] Anderson. “So is Madison’s entrepreneurial community.”

He’s sitting at a table at the Bendyworks office with [Brad] Grzesiak and their partner, Jim Remsik. All three are convinced the downtown is well situated to ride the wave. They argue that the isthmus has the urban setting, the indie culture, the face-to-face proximity, and the creative talent to prosper in the burgeoning IT world.

And they declare that Bendyworks, in its deliberate, idiosyncratic way, is intent on making it happen. Anderson defines and champions the scene. Remsik and his wife, Jenifer, organize Ruby conferences (and in a few years a music-themed conference) that bring the best tech people to town. Bendyworks and the Remsiks have even produced beguiling videos promoting Madison (watch one) to out-of-town techies.

“We can compete with the second-tier cities like Portland and Austin,” Remsik, 35, says confidently. “They don’t have anything on Madison. The problem is that people don’t think of Madison and say, ‘Oh, Madison — yeah, that’s a cool start-up place.”

Grzesiak easily has the most ambitious idea of the three partners: Madison should create a formal web district stretching east from the Capitol and south of East Washington Avenue to Schenk’s Corners.

That corridor has the empty storefronts and cheap space that start-ups need, he says, but it still lacks one crucial component to attract programmers: more apartments that accept cats. “In the web world, it’s a cat thing,” Grzeskiak says.

Who knew?

To read more, please go here.



Doubts About The Edgewater Subsidy

September 25, 2009

I don’t cover City Hall much anymore, so most of what I knew about the proposed Edgewater Hotel expansion I read either online or in what remains of Madison’s newspapers. Frankly, I was puzzled why the mayor was prepared to offer a $16 million subsidy in the form of tax-increment financing.

Madison’s TIF policy is notoriously tough…as in a Dick Cheney kind of way. First, city staff waterboards the developer-applicants until they confess all their financial details and then the Common Council and city committees subject them to months of hostile interrogations. Often blood is spilled, and projects die.

A classic example involved Gary Gorman, one of the state’s premier builders of affordable housing, killing his $84 million mixed-used project on East Washington Avenue in 2006 when the penny-tight, pound-foolish city offered him $2.2 million in TIF for first-phase construction when he asked for $4.2 million.

So I was puzzled why the Edgewater developer would seemingly be showered in subsidy. To learn more, I attended one of the project’s public presentations and talked to ten or so City Hall insiders and business leaders. I basically ran down my concerns and asked them to agree or disagree.

No one gave me what I consider a convincing case for such a deep-pocketed public investment in the Edgewater expansion. This is what I wrote for a guest opinion column in Isthmus.

Madison’s lakefront dreams

July 28, 2009

Funny how long some stories gestate. This Madison Magazine piece on the city’s  long-sought connection of the Capitol Square to Lake Monona goes back more than 25 years. Back then, while I was at Isthmus,  I edited several insightful cover pieces on downtown planning by a fine writer named Bruce Webendorfer who tied together the visionary plans of John Nolen, Wesley Peters and others to improve  the city’s lake access. That history stuck with me over the years.

The drafting of an updated downtown plan seemed like an excellent time to point out how lakefront access has bedeviled the city for 100 years. Time and again, Madison has fumbled historic opportunities to capitalize on its extraordinary assets as a lake city.  This story for Madison Magazine allowed me to highlight the new plans to make Law Park a destination for visitors, downtown residents and boaters.

As you’ll read,  there’s a lot of history here. But curiously enough, the real object lies 110 miles to the east at  Chicago’s Millennium Park.

%d bloggers like this: