In the northern United States, we like to say that there are two seasons of the year: winter and construction. As anyone who has been woken up by the sound of a jackhammer on pavement at 9:00 a.m. can tell you, construction projects around these parts are never ending. Whether it’s the city repaving roads, private developers building new apartment-style complexes for student housing, or the university constructing fresh administrative and dining facilities, raising new structures around Madison has become ubiquitous.
It is surprising then, to see public controversy over the new housing development being posed by the Opus Group, a Minnesota-based student housing development business, which would take the place of the Stadium Bar near Camp Randall. The group, which hopes to construct an apartment style building with “90 to 120 units, first-floor retail space and a 40-stall underground parking garage,” has been met with opposition from the police department, university students, and local residents, all of whom have expressed various concerns.
The Madison Police Department, for their part, is nervous about crime rates and population density, issues they believe will negatively impact public safety around the stadium. Unfortunately, while their concerns are worth mentioning, their conclusions are hardly empirically based. As I have written before, “most studies don’t show any conclusive evidence about whether crime goes up or down with increased population density. A far greater factor on crime rates is unemployment – something the city could combat by creating a regulatory environment friendlier to construction projects that bring jobs and letting housing developments such as this one proceed.”
Police department concerns might also have more resonance if the building they were nervous about was out of their reach at some far end of campus. However, the fact is that the University of Wisconsin’s police station is next door. Not “kind of close, down the block” next door – literally, the next building over. That level of geographic proximity gives me ample reason to doubt the authorities concerns about “density.”
Comments and complaints from residents and students are similarly illogical, ranging from concerns about noise to issues of affordable student housing. Again, while these complaints reference legitimate nuisances, they fail to establish a unique connection between the erection of the new facility and direct increases in housing costs or number of disturbances. These complaints also do a terrible disservice to logic.
While an 8-story residence with retail outlets on the first floor will undoubtedly increase the amount of foot traffic in the area, it’s hard to imagine that it will produce a decibel level comparable to what the Stadium Bar makes during its summer volleyball league or during a fall football event. At the very least, the apartment complex will generate less trash on game days. Furthermore, if the Stadium Bar would like to move back in, leasing space from the new owners of the property, they would be more than welcome to do so.
Arguments about cost fall into a similar category. Many students complained that the costs of renting in the new apartment building would be out of their price range. Although it is a tragedy that there is not more quality affordable housing, there are many options near the UW campus for students of all price ranges. That some students cannot afford an apartment in the building should not bar its construction, it should encourage it. An increased housing supply will likely lower prices of older units, making more space available for those who require it. It’s also worth noting that low-income housing in not the developers plan. If they have identified a target market and have a plan to provide services for it, they should be rewarded by the market.
One of America’s greatest features is the free flow of commerce that stimulates wealth production and provides goods and services for citizens when they require them. Housing, although notorious for back-room deals and permit kickback schemes, is one of the country’s most important industries, and needs to be treated as such. Until more convincing reasons are offered for the status quo, Madison residents should celebrate the sale of the property and the construction of the new residence as new chapters in the block’s storied – pun intended – history.
Nathaniel Olson ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science, history and psychology.