Visions of an Iconic Train Station

Kenton Peters feels like he's on the outside looking in on a design that may indeed be leaving the station.

Or not. Whether Madison's new train station is built at Monona Terrace, or at all, probably depends on the result of this fall's gubernatorial election, with Republican Scott Walker ready to administer the last rites to high-speed rail. But Peters does not let such practical considerations deter him. He loves Madison just enough to have crafted a multi-level "winter garden" station for the deadend right-of-away on the south end of Pinckney Street, without so much as knowing whether he'll profit from it.

He senses the chances are slim and none that the project architect will be interested in collaborating with him, but he knows the station provides an opportunity to create a symbolic entry way to Madison. He also believes it can be linked to a larger vision of a city market place where people would arrive at the station by car or bus, and a series of escalators would take them down more than 50 feet to the train platform, with different retail and service amenities on each level.

For a guy who likes to pull people's legs — yes, I was victimized — he's dead serious about this, much like his alternative design for a new Madison library and other redevelopment plans he's crafted during a 50-year architectural career. At the moment, only two downtown sites are in serious consideration for the station — the Department of Administration Building and an old state office building at 1 W. Wilson, but to put the station in the basement of a state-owned building does not strike Peters as particularly inspired. His concept has more pizzazz, spirit, and good economic development sense — "sort of our Penn Station," he stated.

According to Peters, Eppstein-Uhen has the inside track to design four train stations along the Milwaukee-Madison train route — in Madison, Watertown, Oconomowoc, and Brookfield. Peters has no illusions about getting a piece of that action, but whatever approach is taken, he would like Madison to abandon its piecemeal approach to downtown development and incorporate the station into a comprehensive plan that includes another hotel to serve Monona Terrace. It all dovetails with the growing trend toward downtown residency, which Peters believes could be accelerated by taking city-owned sites, most of which are in strategic locations but are generating no tax revenue, and building more downtown housing.

At the risk of offending State Street's many fine establishments — I could spend hours in the booths at Tutto Pasta, watching the people of Madison walk by — I note that Peters has long believed the area between Monona Terrace and the Capitol is the "real" downtown. "Madison is getting too mature to be a one-horse city," he asserted. "We are so focused on State Street that we are not enabling our city to reach the maturity it can. The south quadrant and east quadrant of the [Capitol] Square holds the potential to build a downtown of real substance."

Toward that end, Peters has shared his train station plan with people at the Department of Transportation and at City Hall, but they are about as non-committal as your average gigolo. That won't stop Peters, for he still hasn't given up on the dream of building a new hotel as part of Lake Terrace Park, a concept he's shown to countless Madison nabobs. Their common refrain is that they would build it if the city only had the money. Well, a new 400-room hotel called for in the Hunden Strategic Partners study could generate a tax increment of about $2.2 million a year, which Peters believes would be sufficient to pay debt service on the project. Perhaps efficiencies could be gained by trimming some of the $1.94 million the city paid last year in overtime to bus drivers. Just a thought.

Peters is among those who lament the large number of attractive properties that are off the tax rolls. "I can't believe," he said, "this beautiful lakefront is occupied by three major state office buildings." None of which should be the home of a new train station.

Editor's Note:This column was written before Gov. Doyle announced the selection of the DOA Building as the state’s preferred site of the train station.

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