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Plan for James Madison Park imagines more amenities, new shelter, better accessibility

October 5, 2018

A clustered sports area, more accessible paths and a modern park shelter full of amenities could redefine James Madison Park.

For about nine months, public comment and input has been solicited as consultants work on a new master plan for the popular park on the shore of Lake Mendota. A recently finished draft of the plan calls for some major changes to the layout of the Downtown green space.

Additionally, a new shelter at James Madison Park, 614 E. Gorham St., could provide space for a cafe and paddle sports rentals, along with other community uses.

The 12.6-acre park currently has two popular basketball courts on the western end, and a sand volleyball court next to the shelter in the center. The master plan would cluster together the three sports courts, and a new playground, next to the shelter.

An open grass area would then dominate the area west of the courts.

“We have largely preserved a lot of the green space that people love about James Madison Park,” said Tom Martin, an architect with Saiki Design, one of several companies that worked on the draft master plan.

An emphasis on stormwater management is also included in the master plan, such as restoring part of the shoreline to a wetland and installing natural water filtration components.

Under the plan, a 31-stall parking lot on the western end would be replaced by a 26-stall lot running next to East Gorham Street. That design is intended to increase safety by creating more visibility of the parking lot than its current location tucked behind the Gates of Heaven synagogue, said Zia Brucaya, senior planner for consultant Urban Assets.

At the end of North Blount Street to the east, eight stalls for the park would be reduced to seven.

During a presentation on the master plan Wednesday, members of the city’s Urban Design Commission questioned the need to have parking at all — aside from a drop-off and loading zone and handicap-accessible stalls — and were critical of the proposed parking lot location because it could obscure views of the lake.

“I don’t think the parking is enough to make a difference, so you might as well not have it,” said commissioner Cliff Goodhart.

One of biggest changes is the proposed replacement of the 1979 concrete park shelter, designed by architect Kenton Peters, with a more modern one full of amenities.

The replacement is proposed to be built into the hillside to front Lake Mendota in nearly the same spot as the current bunker-like shelter. A 9,000-square-foot terrace on the shelter’s roof could be accessed by park-goers off East Gorham Street, and it would provide an area for potted plants, seating and hammocks.

On the ground level facing the lake, 9,500 square feet would provide a cafe and a paddle sports rental location inside the shelter, along with a community room to serve 175 people, bathrooms that can be accessed from the exterior, and storage space.

The rooftop terrace and ground level would be connected by an elevator to increase accessibility of the park.

Destree Architecture & Design has created a conceptual, modernistic design of the shelter that incorporates glass, sharp angles and overhanging portions of the roof. But Melissa Destree, principal architect, told the commission the design is largely a placeholder and encouraged them to focus more on what would be inside the shelter than the outside.

Commissioner Lois Braun-Oddo was skeptical that a new shelter should be built in the same spot as the current one. She said a lack of visibility to the front of the shelter from the street can create safety concerns.

“It’s still creating a hidden area,” she said.

The city’s Parks Commission is expected to weigh in on the master plan and proposed shelter during a meeting in November.

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