Marketing Madison

Madison ‘branding team’
proposes Broadway median

Group also exploring idea of
reducing Main Street to two lanes

By Laura Hodges
Contributing Writer

(November 2010) – In terms of city planning, a plaza is a natural public gathering place – a location to which everyone gravitates to meet friends, stroll or take a break from shopping. It likely has broad sidewalks, benches, landscaping, public art, maybe even an outdoor dining area.

Broadway rendering

Broadway rendering.

That’s the sort of plaza that Madison’s Branding Leadership Team would like to see in the center of Broadway Street. The team started an open conversation about such a plaza by showing conceptual drawings of a landscaped Broadway median at a public meeting Sept. 29 at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library.
Steve Thomas presented the plan on behalf of the Branding Leadership Team, a group of individuals working to implement the best of the ideas presented in 2009 by Seattle-based consultant Roger Brooks and his company, Destination Development International.
One of Brooks’ recommendations was to “convert the fountain island on Broadway to a plaza area.”
He continued, “We recommend that the ‘island’ on which the fountain is placed be redeveloped into a plaza area, which will be large enough to contain events and gatherings. Consider closing the entire block to traffic and making it one large pedestrian plaza.”
The Branding Leadership Team has no plans to close the street to traffic.
Instead, the team’s Attractions and Entertainment Committee has drawn up illustrations that involve improvements to the median along the entire length of Broadway.
The committee thinks the block with the Broadway Fountain works well as a plaza now. They want to continue that atmosphere in each block of Broadway. There would be landscaped medians in each block, with some parallel parking along each median. The sides of the street would retain their diagonal parking.
The biggest change would be in the block just south of Main Street. In that block, the median would be wider, mirroring the island surrounding the Broadway Fountain. The committee envisions some sort of public art in the middle of that island, approximately in front of the Historic Broadway Hotel & Tavern. Brick pavers would cover the driving surface of Broadway for the two blocks between Second to Third Street, including the Main Street crossing.
There would be a clock tower or other feature in the middle of Main Street to signal eastbound drivers that they were entering the central part of the Main Street shopping district.
The proposal dovetails into another Branding Leadership Team proposal, still in the talking stage, that would limit Main Street to two driving lanes, one eastbound and one westbound, between Broadway and Jefferson streets. If implemented, that would force traffic to slow down and allow for diagonal parking in front of Main Street businesses in those blocks, proponents say.
The Sept. 29 meeting proposing the Broadway plaza was not without controversy.
“Ninety-five percent of the plan, people liked real well,” said Thomas. The objections voiced were from residents north of Third Street, who said it is already hard enough to find parking spaces on Broadway without turning more of it into a park.
Bob Ems, who lives at 509 Broadway, explains the residents of his block have approximately 15 vehicles and no off-street parking. They generally use the parking in front of their homes because they get complaints from nearby medical offices when they park elsewhere.
Ems said Broadway Street is somewhat narrower north of Third Street. When people park in the middle of Broadway – as they do during funerals, church services or festivals – there’s very little room for residents to pull out of the diagonal parking in front of their homes. It’s possible to do so now, but with the addition of a grassy median, either the diagonal parking or the mid-street parking would become impossible.
“It would in essence make our life more difficult,” said Ems. “It probably would be very attractive, but not enough to offset the inconvenience.”
The committee’s response, Thomas said, is that they will “retool” their ideas to deal with residents’ parking concerns.
“We’re going to come back with ideas that solve or retain status quo north of Third St. It sounds like people aren’t happy with the way it is right now,” said Thomas.
He said the proposal as it stands now would add 61 new parking places overall, including the additional diagonal spaces on Main Street if it becomes two lane.
Thomas stands by the proposal to include all the blocks from the hillside to the river in the project. “Why look at asphalt when you can look at trees and shrubs, flowers, things like that?” he asks.
Libby Mann, owner of the Historic Broadway Hotel & Tavern and the Livery Stable at 313-317 Broadway St., said she approves of the ideas to beautify Broadway. She wants the street to be a landscaped boulevard that will lead visitors from Main Street to the riverfront, and vice versa.
As a business person who has made a significant investment in her Broadway Street businesses, she has “mixed feelings” about just one aspect.
“The only reservation I would have is if they have events with vendors that compete against business in the existing downtown areas. I really don’t think that is going to happen. I think if we business people register our concerns early, they will be listened to,” said Mann.
“I don’t think it’s going to take away much parking,” she said. “The proposals I’ve seen so far I think would be good. I think beautifying the whole street would be wonderful.”
Her son, Ryan Shaw, general manager of the businesses, agreed. “Anything that’s going to improve the aesthetics of the area seems like it wouldn’t be a bad idea,” he said.
The Broadway median proposal will go back to the Attractions and Entertainment Committee for more discussion. Thomas said public input is still welcome.
He said the committee has quietly worked on some other tasks assigned by the Branding Leadership Team. They include:
• Encouraging outdoor dining.
• Building a network of local musicians.
• Working with the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce and the Madison Main Street Program to create a database of available business inventories. This could help in recruiting more business to Madison by matching entrepreneurs with properties.
The Branding Leadership Team meets monthly and next meets Nov. 12 at the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center.

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