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Friday, June 09, 2023
Side by side photos of State Street in 1969 and State Street now.

High rises and pedestrian-only areas may be the future of Madison’s downtown area. 

What is the future of State Street?

In the past decade, the city of Madison has grown substantially, having gained an additional 75,361 residents with much of that growth being centered in the downtown area.  

Such changes have caused the local community to question what the historic area will look like as Madison continues to grow as a city. As State Street looks to its future, two proposals in particular look to transform much of Madison’s retail, dining and cultural center. 

Change #1: Incorporating a pedestrian-only area

One of the two proposed changes potentially coming to state street is to develop the 400-600 blocks of the area into a pedestrian mall. Pedestrian malls are streets lined with storefronts that only allow foot traffic, closing off all access via automobiles, including buses.

The proposal aims to turn the streets into a large walkway inaccessible to cars for pedestrians and allow businesses to take up more space outside. Additionally, it would facilitate the planting of trees as well as create more space for public artwork.

The pedestrian mall proposal would not complicate current plans to create bus routes on the upper part of State Street, as no routes are slated to be built along the 400 through 600 blocks.

The plan, as proposed by nonprofit community planning organization Downtown Madison, Inc., is modelled after successful pedestrian malls such as those located on Pearl St. in Boulder, Colorado and Church St. in Burlington, Vermont.

 In January, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board advocated for removing vehicles from blocks 400 through 600 on State Street for this very purpose.According to the board, turning part of State Street into a pedestrian mall will have a profoundly positive impact on Madison’s local economy by encouraging individuals to shop at and dine on state street. 

“Madison should multiply this successful effort by removing buses and cabs from State Street and letting pedestrians take over,” the board wrote. “Doing so will bring back business and jobs. It will excite shoppers, diners and attract more tourists and events.”

Alder Michael Verveer of District 4, an area which constitutes much of downtown Madison including State Street, similarly has voiced his support for a pedestrian mall. According to Verveer, there is widespread support among businesses for the proposal.

“We have to be very creative and think outside the box and try to figure out ways to get to ‘yes’ and make this work,” Verveer said. He added that Madison merchants "overwhelmingly support the campaign to turn State Street into a promenade. There absolutely is widespread support."

Change #2: Even more luxury housing

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Madison’s downtown skyline will experience a controversial makeover in the coming years. Developers are looking to construct housing units on State Street, with additional apartment complexes likely to be constructed along a part of the upper end of the street. 

The housing units will be constructed to address Madison’s housing shortage. The median price of a house has risen to $345,000 due to the growing population, according to a report by the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin. Madison's vacancy rate has also grown slimmer and slimmer, currently sitting at 3.4% and trailing behind what is considered a “healthy rate” for cities to maintain.

Developer Core Spaces of Chicago is offering to turn much of the 300 block of State Street into housing.

Core Spaces’s proposed apartment complex is expected to be ten stories in height and contain 481 total housing units, including 404 market-rate units and 77 designated “affordable workforce” units. The project is also expected to provide 278 parking spaces and a total of 20,375 square feet of retail space reserved for businesses. 

According to Core Spaces senior development manager Mark Goehausen, the redevelopment is expected to attract more students and young professionals to the area.

“Core continues to be a very big believer in the city of Madison and the market for student housing in town,” said Goehausen. “This site, being centrally located between the university and the Capitol building, should draw both student and young-professional residents.”

Tim Kamps, chair of the Mifflin District of Capitol Neighborhoods, voiced his support for the development of housing in the downtown area but also raised concerns about the large size of the project.

“The workforce and affordable units being proposed are a huge positive,” Kamps said. “But there will be concerns around displacement of businesses, especially those on Gorham Street, as well as the size and height.”

Ald. Verveer voiced his support for the redevelopment, noting that the project’s inclusion of low-cost housing and alternative locations for displaced businesses “will be absolutely critical.” 

“It’s a bold, ambitious plan for almost the entirety of a very significant Downtown city block,” said Verveer. 

The proposed redevelopment would be Core Spaces of Chicago’s third student housing project in Madison. The developer’s previous projects are luxury apartments including The Hub at N. Frances St. and The James at W. Gorham St., constructed in 2015 and 2017, respectively. 

Core Spaces’s proposal is indicative of the growing population of both the city and the University of Wisconsin. As the number of students enrolled at the university has continued to rise, developers look to State Street to provide more housing.

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