Surface parking for the downtown lakefront? Oh good? | Editorial

Madison’s beautiful lakefront in the heart of downtown is definitely not the place for surface parking.

Yet 58 painted stalls on a long strip of concrete fill much of Monona Lake’s shoreline in Law Park between Machinery Row and Monona Terrace.

Our city can – and should – be more creative with such a premier public space.

Access to Lake Monona from Capitol Square, a few blocks away, is also short-sighted. Good luck finding an easy or direct route to the water. A 33-foot drop, six traffic lanes, and train tracks stand in your way.

Monona Lake’s waterfront downtown is ripe for a remake. And we hope and insist that it finally happens.

The town hall is moving in the right direction. He recently held an exciting competition to reinvent the popular but uninspired shoreline of Law Park past Monona Terrace and along the John Nolen Causeway to Olin Park.

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The demand for candidates sparked a strong reaction. Fourteen companies from across the country submitted their qualifications to develop a major waterfront improvement plan. This includes the design teams that helped create iconic urban destinations such as Navy Pier in Chicago and the High Line in New York.

City officials say they are delighted. Still, with so much talent to choose from, Madison can’t afford unnecessary bickering or delays. It is well known that our city took over half a century to finally build Monona Terrace. Transforming the rest of the Monona Lake waterfront Downtown deserves strong public support and city leadership to ensure rapid progress.

In “Madison: A Model City,” published in 1911, legendary city planner John Nolen envisioned a 5,000-foot-long plaza connecting the lake to the State Capitol. This idea was scaled down in 1943 to Madison’s current layout – 2,500 feet of shoreline on 4.7 acres. And today, the lakeside on the eastern edge of the isthmus suffers from poor connections, a cramped environment and a lack of green space.

Madison grocer Tim Metcalfe and other members of a Nolen Centennial Project task force rekindled interest in the dramatic downtown lakefront improvement 11 years ago, while like other civic groups and private developers over time. Metcalfe and his group urged the city to think big in 2011 to create an “urban playground” along Lake Monona.

Not enough has happened since then. It’s time to move on.

The city’s goal for the competing design teams looks good – a “beautiful, activity-packed signature park” that connects downtown to its urban waterfront and the Alliant Energy Center on the south side. The city wants the winning designer to create more gathering and event spaces while encouraging water activities.

Ten years ago, the team at Metcalfe floated an elegant land bridge over John Nolen Drive for pedestrians and cyclists. They set up an outdoor amphitheater – the “Memorial Union of Lake Monona” – with a view of the Capitol across the water.


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We look forward to seeing what the winning design companies come up with in the months to come. Three of them will receive $75,000 each to create blueprint projects. Then the winner will receive $200,000 to refine a master plan, which would be recommended to city leaders by September 2023.

It’s money well spent (some of which is private donations) for a better Madison for everyone.

Imagine an exciting and accessible shoreline of Lake Monona, seamlessly connected to Capitol Square and a grand promenade along State Street.

Imagine the possibilities of filling that stale surface parking lot in Law Park.

Design teams, start your brainstorming. It’s gonna be fun.


Meet the New Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Board

David H. Henry