Posted tagged ‘Paul Soglin’

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.


Time For Madison To Think Big

October 26, 2016

I’ve written  about development in the Madison area since Pluto was a pup. Lots of stories on land-use plans, on the convention center battles, even the siting of the  MATC main campus. Stuff so old you can’t even find them in an online archives.

Those stories provide the background for me arguing in this Isthmus cover story that Madison needs a comprehensive recreational and economic plan for improving access to Lake Monona along John Nolen Drive all the way  from the Blair Street intersection and  Law Park to the South Beltline.

I write:

Today’s tech-fired boom in Dane County, which owes so much to [Judith] Faulkner’s Epic Systems’ breakout business in electronic health records, is the sort of transformative moment that comes once a century for a community. The overriding question: Can Madison make the best of it, including capitalizing on the intersection of Lake Monona with the city?

Not just downtown either [by building a terraced park over John Nolen Drive]. But reimagining a 21st-century John Nolen Drive all the way up to Quann, Olin and Turville parks to the Alliant Energy Center to the South Beltline and to the overlooked neighborhoods of south Madison.

“This is the next big piece,” says Rob Gottschalk, a planner with Vandewalle and Associates who has studied the John Nolen corridor. “The central city has grown and matured to the point we can now start focusing on the corridor.”

Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, gets it. So does Dane County Board chair Sharon Corrigan, her colleague and south-side Supv. Sheila Stubbs, County Clerk Scott McDonell, as well as business leader Susan Schmitz of Downtown Madison Inc.

“It’s a game-changer,” Schmitz says of the recent waterfront connection proposed for Law Park by the Madison Design Professionals Workgroup. “Improved access is on everybody’s list for the downtown.”

Like Gottschalk, Brandon, who served on the advisory board for the Vandewalle study, argues for a comprehensive game plan for the full corridor, including the Alliant Energy Center. “There is tremendous opportunity to create connectivity and economic development,” he says.

Indeed, a forward-thinking strategy for the county-owned 165-acre Alliant campus should be a key community challenge, as he, Corrigan, McDonell and Stubbs all argue. Surrounded by parks and the Goodman Aquatic Center, Alliant is the linchpin of 400 publicly controlled acres in a fragmented and sometimes impoverished part of town.

Pulling it all together in a comprehensive plan could simultaneously enhance lake access and recreational opportunities at Olin and Turville parks, strengthen Dane County’s convention and exhibition business at the Alliant complex and further economic growth along the South Beltline and in struggling south Madison.

All of these goals — celebrating the lakes, creating jobs, fighting poverty — rank high on just about everyone’s list of community goals, Brandon points out.

I freely admit this is an ambitious undertaking that would take decades to achieve. But the planning has to take place now. That’s the rub. Otherwise shortsighted, piecemeal development will go up “and then you’re stuck with it for the next 40 or 50 years,” as Gottschalk told me.

In other words, a great opportunity will be lost.

To read more, please go here.

Anatomy Of A BioTech Failure

April 1, 2013

On paper, Dane County seems like the perfect place to build a cluster of businesses around the cutting edge bio-technology research of  UW-Madison’s long celebrated College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. But as the city’s failed effort to launch the BioLink greenhouse project shows, there are a hots of compelling reasons why the project never found tenants or solved a financing gap, despite securing a $4.5 million federal grant. As I wrote in this Isthmus story, those reasons included the campus never embracing the city project:

Michael Gay, the city’s former coordinator for business development, is the guy credited with landing the federal grant. He says that while Madison has dropped the ball on bio-ag, other communities like Orlando, St. Louis and even Saskatoon (in Canada!) have moved forward on agricultural biotechnology. “It’s all about community partnerships,” he says of their advances.

Gay talks gently on this point, but others don’t. The UW, the source of so much extraordinary agricultural research, never stepped up to the plate on BioLink. It’s the familiar complaint, warranted or not, that the campus does not play well with others.

Some fault the leadership at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for turning its back on BioLink. But reality is that the college had far bigger fish to fry: launching the federally funded $125 million Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. “BioLink was not a project that CALS was vested in,” admits Rick Lindroth, CALS’s associate dean for research. “It was not critical to our vision.”

While the University Research Park provided BioLink planners with technical support, director Mark Bugher says his team is focused on developing a new 371-acre research park on the west side. “It caught us at a bad time,” he says of BioLink. “My comment internally was that we needed this distraction like we needed a hole in the head. It’s unfortunate. I feel badly about it. The city had an opportunity, but there are some lessons to be learned.”

Successful projects require “a purpose and use that everybody agrees is needed,” he points out. “And people have got to come together.”

But it’s telling that Bugher also acknowledges that Madison leaders are going in “eight different directions” on tech development.


To read more, please go here.

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