Three finalists who have designed public spaces around the globe offered striking initial concepts Monday in a competition to reshape the Lake Monona waterfront between Olin Park and Williamson Street.
Agency Landscape + Planning of Cambridge, Massachusetts; James Corner Field Operations of New York; and Sasaki of Denver shared concepts during an in-person and online meeting from Monona Terrace to forge a master plan to better connect Capitol Square and neighborhoods to the lake, improve water quality and aquatic habitat, celebrate Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural legacy and preserve the lake’s cultural history.
The concepts offered on Monday showed potential for a dramatic transformation of the waterfront, including marsh and wetland restoration, expanded park space, far better separation of motor vehicles, bikes and pedestrians, raised boardwalks, bridges and underpasses, a cap over John Nolen Drive, and railroad tracks, an amphitheater, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired boathouse off King Street, beaches, fishing piers and more.
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“This is such an important project for the city of Madison,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway told the gathering. “I’m eager to get everything we can out of this design process. It’s just an incredible opportunity to transform this space.”
Agency Landscape + Planning
The waterfront’s potential has never been realized, has been ecologically compromised, is unsafe and unwelcoming, and has limited use and users, said Gina Ford of Agency Landscape + Planning.
Agency’s concepts are not about small change but rather a 100-year vision and have four main principles: fill being no longer feasible or desirable; restoring a cycle of culture and ecology; safe, equitable paths; and embracing the city’s seasonal change.
The vision includes three “districts,” a city district centered at Monona Terrace featuring events, public art and more; a causeway district featuring nature, boating and fishing; and a park district at Olin Park for gathering and relaxing.
Agency’s presentation focused on the causeway section, which would include the biggest urban marsh restoration in the Midwest, and perhaps the nation.
The causeway section provides overpasses at King and Broom streets, and underpasses at North Shore Drive, and separated routes for vehicles, faster bikes, a water trail for canoeing in the summer or ice fishing or skating in the winter, and a boardwalk out over the water.
The other sections will come later, Agency said.
James Corner Field Operations
James Corner’s concepts rethink John Nolen Drive; expand the lakefront park; reconnect the city to the waterfront; restore nature and ecology; create a dramatic lakefront destination; and reorient the city to the lakefront.
In rethinking John Nolen Drive, concepts could transform the six-lane roadway into a slower, greener boulevard that would require less space for street and much more for park.
The concepts would include a mix of bridges, underpasses and at-grade crossings, some offering views of the water; and they would restore nature and ecological function and create a more natural shoreline with possibilities of different shoreline features in various spots.
The waterfront could offer multiple destinations, including a green “cap” over parts of John Nolen Drive to the waterfront, while thinking about Madison as a growing city would encourage reorienting development to the lake with offerings like cafes and restaurants.
The project can produce a green, dynamic, active area, a real draw for the entire community and “a new front door for the city,” James Corner said.
The hydrology of the four lakes connected by the Yahara River is key to designing the shoreline, Sasaki team members said.
Sasaki’s preliminary concepts, the most detailed of the finalists at this stage, show four areas: the Lake Park Ledge, Lake Lounge, Community Causeway, and Olin Park.
The Lake Park Ledge around Monona Terrace and to the east could include a park and promenade, the Frank Lloyd Wright boathouse and marina, a public beach and pier, waterfront amphitheater, terrace expansion, playground, cafe and restrooms.
Lake Lounge, west of the convention center, could offer a playground, seasonal artwork, open lawn and food trucks, floating wetlands, pedestrian overpass and overlook, a public art room, accessible boardwalks, winter ice access, and stormwater treatment. The community causeway would offer a narrowed John Nolen Drive, overlook tower, wetland boardwalk, fishing piers, floating wetlands, and a broad pedestrian bridge.
Olin Park could offer a beach, fishing pier, Nature Center, overlook, canopy walk, two boat marinas and boat ramp, sports field and open space, sound barrier mound, stormwater garden and parking.
The Lake Monona Waterfront Project is tied to plans to transform a two-story building and 3.65 acres of shoreline next to Olin Park, purchased by the city in 2019, into a community amenity with Parks Division offices; the reconstruction of John Nolen Drive, slated for 2026; and creation of the “Destination District” around Alliant Energy Center, aimed at connecting the South Side to the lake and Downtown.
The city spent $260,000 for a consultant to produce a 216-page preliminary report completed in May 2021. It will now spend $75,000 apiece for the three finalists — half of which is privately funded — for design challenge stipends, and another $200,000 for the chosen team to refine the preferred master plan.
A special city committee is expected to recommend a preferred master plan to the mayor, City Council and Park Commission by Sept. 1.
Events include a “kick off” on Oct. 3 to engage with three nationally-noted finalists, and later, a check-in on progress, and then presentations on proposed master plans.
A special Madison committee has picked three finalists who’ve designed public spaces around the globe to move forward in a design competition to reshape the Lake Monona waterfront between Olin Park and Williamson Street.
Firms that have designed some of the most celebrated public spaces in the world have joined a competition to reimagine the Lake Monona waterfront between Williamson Street and Olin Park.
Madison is moving to transform a two-story building and property on Lake Monona next to Olin Park into community amenity with Parks Division offices, recreational programming, meeting rooms and enhanced public restroom access for park users.
In August 2022, Madison selected three finalists in its Lake Monona Waterfront Design Challenge, aimed at creating a “visionary, inclusive and…