Iconic Greater Madison: Six intriguing ideas from readers

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

In a past blog – and my IB print column – I announced a contest to suggest an iconic “it” that would put Greater Madison on the map (in a good way, for a change). The goal was, as a collective populace, to commit to doing something that would further our quality of life, but at the same time, REALLY promote economic development and tourism.

The winning entry is appearing in my column in November, but After Hours readers are getting a sneak peek, and you also get to read the submissions, as presented in full, which will only be excerpted, due to space, in the print version. I know you will find these entertaining as well as enlightening and inspiring!

For his submission and vision, first-place winner Jay Ferm is receiving a $50 gift certificate from Dorf Haus, an iconic restaurant in Roxbury, Wis. It’s a second-generation family business that’s undergone many expansions, reflecting vision (to open a Bavarian restaurant) and sustainability – both being qualities judges looked for in our winning entries! Now, without further drumroll, here is a sampling of our most notable entries:

Lush lakes, best food (or) take the waters, eat the food

Jay Ferm submitted this entry, deemed to be the best of the best:

The Madison area lakes are skanky. So skanky that many people refuse to swim. There are regularly health alerts warning people not to swim because of bacterial contamination. It’s a shame that a city of lakes needs pools to provide a safe place to swim. Yet there was a time when our lakes were so clean that people came from all over the Midwest to “take the waters.” Olin Park was once the site of a well-known spa. The water was so clean you could see 40′ down to the bottom of Lake Monona.

So, what if we eliminated ALL sources of water pollution from the four lakes’ watersheds? (Not reduce, not mitigate. ELIMINATE.) Water so clean it’s safe for kids to drink. Our beaches would come back to life. People of all economic layers would recreate on the shores, meeting and mixing. When people think of the Madison area, they think of pristine lakes that can be enjoyed in the city and in the country. Fish so healthy that people actually eat them, and restaurants (and rural dinner clubs) are renowned for their awesome, local, sustainable seafood.

This would be a real community effort as it would take many players and interests all working together to make it happen. Construction companies eliminate construction run-off. Cities beef up storm water management systems. Homeowners and landowners contribute by landscaping their properties to capture rainwater and infiltrate it into the soil.

The boaters trade in their gasoline-powered engines. The UW engineering school develops a way to use biofuel in boat motors, and we have a system for retrofitting all the motorboats on our lakes.

The biggest work, though, is our farms. The majority of water pollution comes from farm run-off. We would need to transform agriculture in the watershed. Converting to organic and bio-dynamic farming methods would go a long way toward reducing ag run-off. Better landscaping and field management will also help.

What if EVERY FARM in the watershed were organic? What if “Grown in Dane County, WI” became a premium food brand that fetched top dollar throughout the Midwest, the U.S., and even internationally? When people saw “Grown in Dane County, WI” on their food, they’d know and trust it as great food. This is ever more important as the industrial food system has more and more incidents of contamination and people’s trust in their food is shakier every year. Restaurants in Chicago would proudly proclaim, “Our ingredients come from Dane County, WI.” Dane County cheese would fetch thrice as much $/lbs. as common cheese.

The economic and social benefits could be profound. Living in an organic landscape could considerably reduce some health problems; 100% onsite/area storm water management would allow us to spend less on storm water infrastructure by governments, lessen flooding, and actively clean the water. Farmers would pay less for petroleum-based fertilizers and would reap premium prices for their goods. Our groundwater depletion would slow, maybe reverse.

To tackle something like this would require innovative ways of doing things, financially, socially, and technologically: cost-sharing for homeowners and building owners to build storm water infiltration systems; cost-sharing to teach and convert farms to organic, etc.

I’m just scratching the surface of what is possible. Anyway, that’s my vision.

Use the lakes

In a sister proposal (without knowing it), Jim Sendecki wrote a corresponding entry:

Madison has some iconic features that perhaps go underutilized. Our state Capitol is certainly one (although it seems to be over-utilized at the present time). But I think our real opportunity lies in the fact that Madison has some natural opportunities that we are not capitalizing on: our lakes. Not many places can boast about the water features that surround their environment.

People from all over visit Lake Geneva, Green Lake, Elkhart Lake, and the hundreds of lakes that comprise our northern neighbors. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could swim in, dine near, boat on, and generally enjoy the authentic, unique, and natural beauty of Madison?

To achieve this dream will require several efforts:

1. Clean the lakes up. Manage the garbage, weeds, algae, and water quality. Be bold with ideas, and be willing to test new approaches. We have nothing to lose in this battle that has raged for decades. To cite an example, look no further than Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie were once so polluted that they actually caught on fire. Today they are a recreational haven. Recently a group has formed called the Clean Lakes Alliance. They are determined to clean up the lakes and make them a real asset to the region. Let’s get behind this idea and support their efforts for a real change in our lakes.

2. Encourage lake use by making them more accessible.
Repair launch ramps and get rid of user fees, increase parking access. Build public marinas with food and service (gas) capabilities. Encourage use with safety upgrades, lifeguards, and food/beverage vendors. (Think “State Street carts in the parks.”) Develop boat rental facilities so that even those without a boat can access the lakes (we built bike paths for this same type of function).

3. Create more lake-use events. Canoe and kayak races, sailing regattas, free swimming lessons*, fishing tournaments, radio-controlled boat races, scuba diving camps, sunken treasure experiences, fireworks displays, concerts, etc. *We could brag that every citizen in our region knows how to swim and learned for free!

Sometimes, as you pointed out, it is not the new thing that matters, it is capturing the value of the overlooked.

Another idea how to use the lakes

Tim Cooley offered an idea for tourism on the lake, too:

Madison has many beautiful lake settings, and if we had a manmade island behind the Monona Terrace, on Lake Monona, with a band shell and picnic areas and rowboat or pontoon boat shuttles (for example) for picnickers or event-goers, we could use that as a launch pad for both summer and winter activities. I’d like to see a fountain on it, powered with lake water, that could be lit up with colored lights at night. This could be the start of a truly iconic “lake walk” adventure around the lake, too.

Building a tourist Mecca: Captured Madison air balloon

This next idea was submitted by Daniel Amato:

The “Test of Time” continues to convince me that this unique attraction could be a “Wisconsin” Icon. A 500-foot tethered, gas-filled balloon overlooking Madison’s great isthmus and surrounding area, including lakes, capital, Monona Terrace, Overture Center, UW-Madison, and all its scenic beauty. This attraction was presented in 2005-06 to Tom Diehl’s Tommy Bartlett show area, Tangier Outlet, Buffalo Bill’s owners, GMC&VB, Milwaukee C&VB, House on the Rock, either direct or second-hand interests. Imagine the above views! Imagine senior citizen and schoolchildren’s day and/or evening experience with a lingering nostalgia.

May I make a few detailed comments supporting this tourism attraction based on my experience while “walking in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus” on the island of Madeira.

The island of Madeira, off Portugal, has about 1 million guests per year, mostly from Portugal on vacation. Besides its mountainous landscape, there is a cable-lift scenic ride. The tethered, gas-filled balloon holds about 30 guests and has a circular observation platform and walkway, including wheelchair accessibility. The center is open and securely fenced, yet allowing vision and pictures. The ascension is slow and overlooks 180 degrees of island and 180 degrees of beach and ocean. A day and night ticket is most often sold and is operated under aeronautical training and standards.

The balloon is manufactured in Germany with up-to-date electronic and mechanical controls by licensed people. It can be placed under or adjacent to the balloon depending upon area constraints. Arms extend outward to capture the returning balloon.

As of 2005-06 there weren’t any operating in the U.S. They are located in Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Rome, Berlin, and Lebanon.

Cost in 2005 was approximately $1.5 million with the cost underwritten by advertising around the balloon. Operating expenses and profit are derived from admissions. The safety record has been 100%. Other captured balloons that have resulted in deaths were manufactured in Great Britain, and it became an accident-prone attraction. In addition, Wisconsin Dells’ experience with past annual balloon fests were subject to winds over 8 mph, the limit for hot air balloons. Being tethered, this balloon can operate at much higher wind. So, the Dells remembers its past balloon fests and its unrelated problems and uncertainty.

The large diameter of the balloon allows for advertising possibilities, e.g., Oscar Mayer, American Family, CUNA, Epic, refreshment companies.

Imagine being twice as high as our state Capitol, isthmus, land, lakes (5) and surrounding waters, UW-Madison. Virtually every conventioneer attending downtown functions, locals, people on bus tours, seniors, and schoolchildren can participate in this unique event. Similar to free-float hot air balloon: peace, quiet, solitude, awe, diversification of visual interests, family-friendly, center of action, downtown attraction, guest retention time, and finally an entire isthmus and city overview.

Come together under a retractable roof

An equally intriguing idea was submitted by Steve Pullara:

I tend to agree with you that the natural beauty of the city and campus and Capitol are great. If you want a crazy idea, how about putting a retractable roof over State Street and have it be a TV screen/movie screen, kind of like Fremont Street in Las Vegas. It could close at night for the show and in bad weather (winter) and open when then the weather is good. You could add moving walkways like they have in airports, too, so it is easier to get from the Capitol to campus. I bet you never thought you’d get such wacky ideas from a CPA.

Mad City clock tour: “Come see what makes Madison tick!”

Our final [published] entry, which may become first in your hearts, offers a self-guided car or bicycle tour of Madison’s favorite destinations) submitted by Lori Jolin and Terri McCarthy.

This idea is to promote various locations around the city, which have not only become favorites for Madisonians, but also interesting destinations for tourists. The tour could begin at a beautifully designed plaza at the new “public access” area at the Edgewater Hotel. This clock would have the accurate time of day or night and could possibly be large enough to be walked on by pedestrians. There would be 12 destinations around the city (we’ve included our suggestions) that would represent each number on a clock.

Each destination would have a clock that would be unique in its design. (Stone hedge,
water feature clock, metal, glass, tile, or something unique representing the location.
Local artists would be encouraged to submit their ideas for the various clocks.)

There would be a two-sided map at each destination that would show the person taking the tour, how to get to each consecutive destination by car or by bike. The map itself would be a unique design and could possibly include special points of interest at each location.

They could be changed seasonally to include various events throughout the year. Distance by car or bike could also be included. A “suggested donation” box could be near each map holder to help offset the cost of the maps. Possible advertising could also be sold to help pay for producing the tour maps and encourage people to check out the local eateries or retail establishments that make our city “tick.” We believe it could be something that could be enjoyed by thousands for years to come. Everyone who would come to town would be encouraged to take the “Mad City Clock Tour.”

Example of suggested clock tour destinations:

(We tried to configure destinations in some type of order on a map.) There are so many awesome places in Madison, it’s hard to choose 12!

1:00 University of Wisconsin Union Terrace
2:00 Monroe Street
3:00 Vilas Zoo
4:00 Arboretum
5:00 Monona Terrace
6:00 Capitol Square
7:00 Children’s Museum
8:00 Overture Center
9:00 State Street
10:00 Willy Street
11:00 Olbrich Gardens
12:00 Edgewater Plaza

Have a big idea of your own?

Those are the ideas put forward for our consideration, and it’s a lot to think about. We also had entries suggesting we build a hippie museum; that we follow up on ideas already in the works, like high-speed rail, etc., the original Edgewater proposal, etc.; or that we leave Madison as it is so that more people DON’T move here. Another person suggested – we hope tongue in cheek as a political remark – that we build a moat around the city to keep undesirables out. We had lots and lots of suggestions, and it was hard to pick the ones to forward to judges, but we did, and here is the result: CLEAN UP THE LAKES!

Your comments or suggestions? We’re listening!

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