It Takes a Villager
April 2, 2009 1:59 PM
Last Friday marked the groundbreaking for the remaking of the Villager Mall. The Villager, a tired mall on Park Street, was acquired by the City's Community Development Authority a few years ago. Since then we've been working with the tenants, the neighborhood and the broader community on a redevelopment plan. That task was tremendously complicated because of the many engaged stakeholders including the Harambee partnership of human service providers, the University of Wisconsin, MATC, Edgewood, Planned Parenthood, Madison Public Libraries and the many other agencies and small businesses that call the Villager home. At the same time we needed to be careful with the taxpayers' dollars.
The result is remarkable and the celebration at the groundbreaking was inspiring. The Urban League of Greater Madison was especially proud, and with good reason. The groundbreaking represented the culmination of a successful fundraising campaign to build their new office space at the Villager which will also house a new Planned Parenthood family planning center and a new Madison Public Library. The library space is badly needed as the neighborhood uses the current small branch heavily. We're going to build a library four times larger than the current branch. And the Urban League space will allow the League to expand their economic development programs, which is especially critical in this economy.
There are literally dozens of people who could be recognized for this accomplishment, but I want to single out just three. First, Planning & Development Director Mark Olinger, who navigated endless complications to get us through to this day. Second, my own Chief of Staff Janet Piraino who kept dozens of balls in the air and conducted countless sensitive negotiations to keep the Harambee partnership together and other tenants in place. Some of those talks are still ongoing. And finally, none other then the persistent Alder Tim Bruer, who is a tireless advocate for his district. It was Tim who pushed a skeptical mayor (me) to buy the Villager, and I think it's not too early to say that he was right. To use one of his favorite words, the Villager and its surrounding neighborhoods are in the midst of a "renaissance" that took a big leap forward last Friday.
Finally, this says something about the way we should be responding to the recession. The Villager represents a spirit of moving forward, of investing in our city at a time when caution is the rule of the day. The construction work itself will support many good paying, family supporting jobs and the completed project will be home to more permanent jobs. Moreover, the aura of confidence it will send into the surrounding neighborhoods will help in ways that may be hard to quantify but that will be very real.