Where the Sidewalk Ends

Five proposals for Union Corners redevelopment revealed

Union Corners has been vacant for quite some time but the City sees its redevelopment as one of the crown jewels of resurrecting the Capitol East corridor. Many of the plans submitted for the site include using the bricks (left) from the French Battery Company plant that used to reside on a portion of the site.

Everyone wants Union Corners developed. Once the location of a Kohl’s food store and the French Battery Company plant, it has sat grass-covered and empty for years. Now five proposals have been submitted in response to the City’s recent Request For Proposal and the vetting process begins.

We have been down this road before, McGrath Associates had an approved plan with neighborhood support for mostly residential buildings in 2004 but the economic downturn derailed the project by 2007. Union Corners had been dying a slow death for decades as businesses struggled to exist on that corner and Ray-O-Vac’s manufacturing plant faded away. In 2010 the city purchased the site for $3.57 million and issued an RFP in June.

Picking the right proposal is critical as both the City and neighborhood residents see incredible potential for the nearly 12-acre site, if its done right. With such a large area available, many in the Atwood neighborhood are excited to start from scratch and implement fresh ideas in urban planning, but also see much is at stake for what is eventually built.

The Radiance Union Corners proposal submitted by and ad-hoc committee of area residents.

“We have a very special place here which I hope the developers will come to recognize.” John Steines tells Willy Street Blog. Stienes is the leader of an ad-hoc committee of city residents whose Radiance Union Corners proposal is the only one submitted by a non-developer.

The Radiance proposal focuses on how the space is used and what key elements should be there which the committee identified as: Hawthorne Library, grocery, senior and day care, co-housing, and common green space.

“The goal of seeing a place evolve that I and my neighbors will want to inhabit is at the heart of what we did with Radiance. Burying parking space within is critical as parking space on street scape kills the street scape.” Steines said.

The proposal by Community By Design includes a public market and hotel.

In the design submitted by the committee the structures follow a topographical theme with recessed buildings flowing away from East Washington Avenue to help reflect traffic noise. The design would also try to maximize meteorological advantages by capturing winds for summer cooling and sun for winter heating.

View all the proposals here

Building density would be transitional from the heaviest close to main arterials and lessen toward the surrounding neighborhood. Pedestrian and bike path movement through the core of the development along with landscaping that captures storm water run-off for reuse also are key features of the proposal.

“I believe a variety of form can reflect the values the community strives for so I don’t want to be bogged down in that debate, but the principles at the base of this plan can not be exchanged.”

The C.D. Smith Construction/Eppstein Uhen Architects proposal includes a plan for a grocery store. EUA also designed the Goodman Community Center.

Steines said co-housing was a key priority for local residents and financing the entire proposal would involve a mix of traditional development models and public/private partnerships and also includes utilizing “Green Co-housing” financed through City Community Land Trust Partnerships.

“While we in the community cannot alone build what we propose, we can continue to strive to influence the discussion in a serious, caring and respectful manner.” Steines said.

The proposals submitted by developers: Community By Design, Gorman & Company; C.D. Smith Construction/Eppstein Uhen Architects, and Livesey Co./Stone House Development; do not stray from the basic design of the 2004 plan but vary in execution. Most of the proposals call for a grocery store, Hawthorne Library branch, mixed-retail, and multi-story commercial space on East Washington Avenue.

Gorman Associates’ mix of commercial and residential is highlighted by their “Townhomes at Union Corners” neighborhood concept.

Moving south toward the surrounding neighborhood, many of the plans would employ the now reconnected Winnebago street as the crossover to residential housing which vary from industrial-themed to townhomes.

Also proposed within the development is a UW-Health Clinic, hotel, and a public market which may curry early favor with Mayor Paul Soglin who announced recently he wanted one in Madison. Four of the five proposals call for a “main street” within the development that feature either a pedestrian promenade or light access by vehicles. Parking was also addressed and many of the proposals strived to minimize surface lots.

Will the City pick the right mix of residential and commercial use to make Union Corners success? How will this development integrate into the long-established neighborhood. What is the best mix of anchor businesses, condos, low income housing that will benefit all that reside, work, and patronize the area? What if we pick a lemon; a development that languishes and requires a bailout much like the Overture Center needed?

Livesey Co./Stone House Development would not have any individual housing and designed the entire sight with an industrial theme to match the previous uses of the space.

For the Radiance Union Corners group, their work was not so much to have their design win but to make sure the desires area residents were included as the project moved forward.

“The ad-hoc neighborhood committee who prepared this proposal did so with the intention of assuring that the values of the residents are represented amongst the spectrum of proposals that will be considered by the committee and that those values will inform the evaluation process,” the ad-hoc committee wrote in their proposal.

The proposals vary in cost, topping out at $108 million with public assistance requests as much as $15 million, which the Mayor said may be difficult to provide.

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