University updates its ‘front door’

September 26, 2013 By David Tenenbaum

Photo: Panorama

Pictured in a composite-panoramic photo from left to right, major facilities near the soon-to-be-redeveloped 700 and 800 blocks of State Street Mall include University Club; Mosse Humanities Building; Wisconsin State Historical Society; Science Hall; Memorial Union, the future Alumni Park leading to Lake Mendota, and the Red Gym (Armory and Gymnasium). The view is from the roof of Memorial Library overlooking Library Mall.


Even as the first phase of the Memorial Union Reinvestment moves toward conclusion, a spate of other projects will raise dust in and around Library Mall and State Street Mall.

The City of Madison is gearing up to start a complete overhaul of State Street Mall between North Lake and North Park Streets in spring, with completion in fall 2014.

But that is only one in a series of overlapping projects that will update buildings and grounds that, in some cases, have not had a facelift in more than half a century:

  • Alumni Park: Construction of a park to replace the parking lot east of Memorial Union will start in spring 2014; the park will open in fall 2015.
  • Memorial Union: Phase 1 will be complete in fall 2014. Phase 2, renovating the eastern section, starts in fall 2014 and finishes in 2017. The design is underway, but no contractor has been selected. Some areas may remain open during construction, says Gary Brown, director of campus planning and landscape architecture. “The original thought was that it would be easier and faster to close it all down, but that’s not been decided yet.”
  • Library Mall rebuilding: Potential start date is 2017, after removal of construction trailers for Memorial Union project; concept planning is under way, and fundraising will begin shortly.
  • The church and old house at St. Paul’s Catholic Center will be replaced in a 16-month project that will break ground no later than February 2017. St. Paul’s director Father Eric Nielsen says the new facility will have a chapel for 500 worshippers and a dining-event hall seating 250, but not the apartments that were originally envisioned.

Amid this major menu of construction, there are plenty of bright spots: The restoration of the East façade of the Wisconsin Historical Society is almost complete, and Miron Corp. will remove its construction trailers from Library Mall this fall. Most of the utility projects in the area, stretching between Observatory Drive and North Lake Street, are complete. A century-old steam tunnel near the Red Gym on Langdon Street will be replaced, likely during the Alumni Park construction.

The biggest construction kahuna in the area, replacement of the Humanities Building, is more than a decade away, Brown says.

The campus community has already seen many benefits from the projects clustered near the foot of State Street. The Chazen Museum expansion was completed in 2011. Gordon Dining and Event Center on West Dayton Street opened in 2012. The Goodspeed Family pier opened in late June. And East Campus Mall is poised for completion with the building of Alumni Park and eventual renovations to Library Mall.

As phase 1 of the Memorial Union reinvestment approaches completion, the Frederic March Play Circle and Union Theater will both reopen in fall 2014. The new Hoofer’s area, brat stand and terrace upper plaza all saw heavy use this summer.

And amid all this construction, Brown says the Memorial Union Terrace will be available for eating, meeting and general conviviality. “It will be open in every summer of the construction. We did that in phase 1; we had it open when we needed it open.”