The city is worried State Street has become too much like a “food court.”
City officials are gathering data for an upcoming City Council study designed to look deeper into revitalizing the State Street area to bring a wider variety of businesses.
The council passed a resolution to conduct this study on March 3 with results to come in the upcoming months. It has opened up discussion on State Street’s role as an economic and cultural resource, Bill Fruhling, a Planning and Development Office principal planner, said.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, whose district includes State Street and who co-sponsored the resolution, said this recent push can be at least partially attributed to Mayor Paul Soglin’s worry that State Street may be lacking a traditional mix of businesses.
“The main concern is that slowly over time we’re losing more and more traditional retail to a large percent of coffee shops and restaurants,” Verveer said. “State Street is becoming more of a food court kind of area.”
Soglin’s recent statements indicating concern about the influence of bars in downtown Madison are largely tied to his call for a greater variety of businesses, though safety concerns following last weekend’s shooting at State Street Brats are also a factor, Verveer said.
In an effort to encourage a better experience along State Street, lawmakers are also considering making State Street friendlier to foot traffic.
Civilian motor vehicles are currently barred from driving on the street, but the ban could expand to public vehicles to convert the space into an entirely pedestrian-oriented mall.
This would involve rerouting Madison Metro lines to prohibit bus traffic on the street, an option that has been considered in the past, Fruhling said.
“Removing the buses probably comes up about once every ten years, and has certain groups consistently for and against in each discussion,” Fruhling said. “It’s a complicated issue, but it’s one we’re looking at moving forward.”
Aside from a new layout, increasing population density in downtown Madison may also create a hospitable environment for local retailers by boosting existing businesses and creating openings for new ventures, Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, said.
The growth of Madison’s downtown area comes with certain expectations from new residents, Wood said.
“Right now we don’t have a lot of people who are working down here, living down here and essentially existing entirely downtown and around State Street, but I think there’s a market for that,” Wood said.
The discussion is ongoing, but planning has begun and will continue through the summer, Verveer said.
Student voices will be welcomed in the fall as planning intensifies, Verveer said.
“We hope to have a very engaging, open participatory process,” Verveer said. “All of the stakeholders, in which students are a very big part, should get involved to share their hopes and dreams for what the future of State Street will look like.”
This emphasis on open air pedestrian areas is part of a broader push throughout the city of Madison. Continuing progress at Hilldale Mall near the University of Wisconsin campus is focused on converting the complex back to its original open air design in the hopes that shoppers will view it as more of a “destination,” rather than a collection of stores, according to the shopping center’s website.