With the future of Judge Doyle Square up in the air and the City once again restarting the process of find a suitable plan, local leaders remain generally supportive of redeveloping the 2-block area where the Madison Metropolitan Building and Government East parking ramp sit today.
They also display differing levels of optimism that a better proposal will come forward, and that both the City and Exact Sciences will honor their commitments to create jobs for people of color.
The Madison Common Council narrowly approved a proposal by JDS Development that would have used about $47 million in public funds to build more than 200 hotel rooms, restaurant and retail space, and a 375,000 square foot corporate headquarters for local biotech company Exact Sciences.
That proposal fell apart earlier this week, when Exact Sciences announced that it would expand at University Research Park instead of moving downtown.
“This is an opportunity to work with the city, build on our current footprint in Madison and partner with the University to continue grooming its aspiring talent,” Exact Sciences Chairman and CEO Kevin Conroy said in a statement. “While the chance to build a headquarters downtown was incredibly appealing, an opportunity to develop a campus allows us to bring our team together and make a prudent investment that benefits the company and community for the long term.”
One of the proposal’s selling points was Exact Sciences’ commitment to creating jobs, especially for minorities. In fact, part of the proposal was a partnership between Exact Sciences and the Urban League of Greater Madison to provide internships for people of color.
But Alder Samba Baldeh, who voted against the proposal, said the company’s commitment to minority employment isn’t related to Judge Doyle Square.
“Are they going to send all the minorities home now, and say we’re not going to hire any more? No,” he said.
Indeed, the internship program will go forward, said Urban League president Ruben Anthony.
“Exact Sciences has assured the Urban League of Greater Madison that they will honor their Memo of Agreement,” Anthony said. “They will continue to be a pipeline for jobs for those who train at the ULGM. They will continue to provide jobs ranging from $13 to $16 per hour. Exact Sciences has demonstrated its commitment to be a diverse employer, especially in its Customer Care Center.”
Anthony, a vocal proponent of the JDS proposal, said his reaction to the news was “disappointment. Disappointment for Exact Sciences, disappointment for the City, disappointment for the downtown and disappoint for those who would have had the opportunity to work for Exact downtown,” he said.
“However, I remain optimistic because I know that Exact Science’s commitment to providing sustainable jobs in the City of Madison will not change,” Anthony said. “They have made it very clear that they are still committed to the partnership with the Urban League and committed to providing sustainable jobs in the City of Madison. Likewise, we have to applaud Mayor Soglin. He has demonstrated his commitment to supporting companies and taking extraordinary steps to make the downtown and Madison top notch. So while I am disappointed, I remain optimistic.”
Anthony said he would also continue to support the redevelopment of Judge Doyle Square under one of the other proposals, some of which may be resubmitted to the City within the next few weeks.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has said he would like to re-engage the developers who made proposals for the redevelopment, and to hear from them by November 13 whether they are interested in submitting new proposals.
Baldeh also said he would be open to one of the other proposals — it was only the JDS proposal he opposed, mainly because of the requirement of public funds.
“It didn’t make sense not to give consideration to those who weren’t asking for a handout from the City,” he said, adding that “there was something that was fishy” about both Exact Sciences’ finances and the financials behind the proposal.
Progressive Dane Co-chair Mike Martez Johnson, another vocal critic of the JDS proposal, said he could support a different proposal — if there is more public conversation and transparency in the next go-round.
“I don’t think the public had the opportunity to weigh in on it,” he said. “The City has to rebuild the Government East parking ramp. Don’t give away the property. It’s one of the most profitable tracts of land in the community,” he added, referring to a suggestion by some that the City sell the property and allow the private sector to redevelop it.
Johnson would like to see an entirely different kind of proposal, too — one that focusses on human needs rather than tourism or business.
“They always say they want to expand the tax base,” he said. “The best way to expand the tax base it to create jobs”
He said the property could present the opportunity to create a multimodal transportation station, social services hub, public market and work space.
“(City leaders) want to be the Silicon Valley of Wisconsin or Times Square of Wisconsin,” he said. “That’s not what the majority of the people want.”
He also said the political will being spent in the entire process could be distracting from real issues.
“Decreasing homelessness isn’t as sexy as building a 12-story building,” he said. “Madison’s kind of gotten sucked into that mindset. A decent amount of the white political establishment are unwilling to address the real issues. They want to tinker around the edges and get into the optics. How does this project relate to the rest of it? How do these things go together? Nobody’s really made that connection.”