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While developers wait, hopes for new neighborhood grow at old Royster-Clark site

Demolition is complete at the old Royster-Clark site, paving the way for what the city of Madison hopes will be a vibrant new neighborhood.

Demolition is complete at the old Royster-Clark site, paving the way for what the city of Madison hopes will be a vibrant new neighborhood.

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It’s a roughly 26-acre swath of land on the east side of Madison, just a stone’s throw from the idyllic Olbrich Gardens and Lake Monona, but in recent years it’s looked more like Siberia than Shangri-La.

The former location of the Royster-Clark plant, which for years churned out agricultural fertilizer, has been much discussed since Agrium, Inc. acquired the property in 2006 and decided it didn’t fit the company’s plans.

In December of last year, Ruedebusch Development & Construction purchased the land – which lies north of Cottage Grove Road and west of Dempsey Road in Madison – and demolition of the plant’s buildings began soon thereafter.

So what’s happened in the meantime?

 

If you take a peek today, you’ll still see a wasteland, but that’s a far cry from the vision Ruedebusch and Madison leaders have for the site. The long-term goal is to transform the area into a mixed-use neighborhood featuring low- and low-medium-density residential, retail, and high-tech and “flex-space” buildings that would support employment. If you take a virtual tour via Ruedebusch’s fly-through video, you’ll see a space that comes alive with attractive brick retail buildings, grass-covered roundabouts and boulevards, lush greenspaces, and a multi-faceted mix of single-family homes and apartments.

It’s enough to excite even the most development-averse east sider – particularly since it borrows heavily from the new urbanist models favored by many progressives – but that final vision remains far out on the horizon, perhaps 10 to 20 years down the road, according to some estimates.

Right now, Ruedebusch remains temporarily stuck in a rather unexciting – albeit planned-for – waiting game.

“The demolition is complete, all the contaminated materials have been moved off-site … in accordance with the DNR rules and regulations and the way it was planned,” said Dave Nelsen, who is overseeing development of the site as director of engineering and architecture for Ruedebusch. “So right now, we’re in kind of a little bit of a waiting mode. We’re taking test readings, we’re monitoring wells on-site to verify that the groundwater is getting better and improving, and that’s going to take several months to potentially a year. … But it’s anticipated that in a year we’ll likely know kind of where we’re at.”

Nelsen says that if all goes well, in the next two or three years people will begin to see some significant development on the site.

“We’re confident that the site will be cleaned up and ready to go, and from there it’s just going through the city processes, so I don’t see any large challenges,” said Nelsen. “Hopefully, the economy turns around and things start moving forward a lot quicker than they are right now, but other than that, it’s kind of just a normal process.”

Watching the market

Indeed, part of the waiting game may simply include waiting for the economy to fully recover – an exercise that in recent months has admittedly been frustrating – but the long-term future for the area looks more than bright.

“I think it depends on the market,” said Steve Cover, director of Madison’s Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development, when asked about the potential timeline for development. “Once completed, I think it probably – like we’re doing on the East Washington corridor – it will probably stimulate further quality development along that street as well. To be honest with you, I think it can move a lot quicker than that [10-year timeline], particularly with what they’re proposing. Certainly, the office market will turn around much sooner than that.”

While he isn’t at liberty to discuss particulars, Nelsen said there’s been considerable interest in the site, and that could help ameliorate any lingering doubts stemming from the slow-growth economy and the well-documented troubles of commercial and residential developers in recent years.

“I’d say the economy certainly doesn’t help any, but this being in a desirable area, I think there’s a lot of opportunities for commercial development,” said Nelsen.

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