As the Alliant Energy Center prepares for a massive overhaul, the ‘Destination District’ project could reshape Madison

MADISON, Wis. – Friday marked a milestone in the future development of the Alliant Energy Center campus, as the request for proposals from contractors came to a close.

Over the upcoming weeks, a team with the AEC will review the options, before making a decision that will pour tens of millions into the campus over the coming years.

“The time has come that we really need to invest in this location,” said Executive Director Brent McHenry. “We need to continue to develop it and grow it for the community and the neighborhood and really make it a lasting venture well into the history of Dane County and Madison.”

The Veterans’ Coliseum, built in 1965, stands to be one key piece of the renovation efforts.

“A lot has changed over those many years,” McHenry said. “Event requirements have changed, facility amounts have changed, technology requirements have changed.”

Yet the overall development goals, detailed in a 2018 Master Plan, aims to touch every area of the campus – building a new multi-use arena, a gateway plaza and seeking to add a 180-room hotel. The estimated cost of the project is over $120 million, according to the plan documents. 

We need to move aggressively on this,” McHenry said. “Coming out of the pandemic, this is the time where we need to be ready to host and recover for the local population but we also need to rebuild our revenue.”

Once a contractor is selected, McHenry says the hope is to begin work as soon as possible. Overall, he says the project could take anywhere from 3-5 years.

While the plans are extensive, they’re just one part of a proposed ‘Destination District‘, a blueprint to reshape John Nolen between the Beltline and downtown.

The district would add reimagined park spaces, bike paths, apartment complexes and food and dining options.

This is a huge project for the entire community,” said Jason Ilstrup, President of Downtown Madison Inc. “For the south side, for Downtown Madison, honestly for the entire surrounding area.”

There hasn’t been a project in generations that could be this impactful if done right,” Ilstrup said. “If we are intentional about including our entire community, intentional about creating equity within the space, intentional about making sure this fits within the tourism economy, this is something that could launch this part of the city and the entire community.”

McHenry said these upgrades could put Madison on the same level as cities like Nashville, San Antonio and Chattanooga in its ability to host events. 

It’s going to be inviting, it’s going to be family oriented, it’s going to be community oriented, it’s going to be sort of if you’re walking into an entryway to one of the coolest cities in the Midwest,” he said. “It adds that additional hotels, restaurants, entertainment opportunities, walkability, bikeability, that puts it on par with some of the larger convention and visitor destinations in the nation.”