City Life

University Square Development Still Underway

Despite some difficulties renting commercial space in the new University Square facility, developers say the trouble on Wall Street hasn't made its way down University Avenue just yet. In August, Madison development firm Executive Management, Inc., in partnership with UW–Madison and Steve Brown Apartments, completed construction on the massive 1.1 million-square-foot University Square facility. The building features a ten-story apartment tower, a nine-story office tower, a parking garage and two full floors of commercial retail space. Today, the apartment tower is almost entirely rented, the offices await their university tenants' December move-in and the commercial space...well…it's ready and waiting. Gregory Rice, CEO of EMI, the company managing University Square's commercial real estate, said only about half of his company's spaces are currently leased or up for signature. Rice cited a strained real estate market as a reason for the slow development, but said he is not worried about the future of the investment. "Retailers typically don't like to start looking at projects like University Square until those projects are farther along," says Rice. "It was very difficult for the retailers that we were attempting to attract to really understand it until it was fairly close to being finished." Rice said that early in the process, EMI had close to seventy-five percent of its spaces rented. Some of those tenants backed out of renting during negotiations, others even after signing a lease agreement, and that that has also influenced the growth of the property, Rice says. But patience is key. Rice says EMI wants to make sure it is selective when signing tenants into the building, so that the "right mix" is created for both the residents of the building and the surrounding community. "A project of this magnitude, you don't snap your fingers and have everything open up at the same instant," he says. "It takes a number of months to finish the space off and get it all to open up." For Steve Brown and the Lucky apartment tower, though, that wait wasn't necessary. Margaret Watson, chief operating officer at Steve Brown Apartments, said the tower is ninety-nine percent rented, leaving only the model unit and two individual bed spaces available. Watson said a comprehensive renting strategy and a good product were at the heart of Lucky's success. The company used a wide rent scale, varying sophistication of amenities and the availability of individual leases to attract renters of all kinds. A private, dorm/apartment hybrid area called Lucky 101 was also implemented in the plan to create a first-year student living community. Watson says Steve Brown wanted to bring an "urban feel" to their development and says the strategy has worked "better than expected." Some of Lucky's residents, however, were disappointed with the lack of development on the commercial end. "It would be nice if it was moving along a little faster," says UW student and Lucky resident Rajitha Kota, "None of the stuff is open." Others, though, remain optimistic. "Its good," says resident Minho Cho. "And if there's more development, it's going to be better." Alan Fish, associate vice chancellor of the Facilities Planning and Management Department at UW–Madison, said the university plans to fill its part of University Square by mid-January. When that happens, the tower will officially become home to over one hundred UW student organizations, several administrative offices and University Health Services. Fish said the university agreed to begin moving into the building later than the other investors so that contractors could develop the apartment tower and commercial spaces in time for the beginning of the fall 2008 semester. Rice says the university's move-in will bring the project closer to completion, and he hopes to have more retailers signed on by then. "It may take a little bit longer," he says. "But other than it taking a little bit longer, I think the project will end up being very, very successful."

A Capital City Connected

It doesn't take newcomers long to get a handle on Madison geography. Drawing a mental map of the city is easy. A quick, first sketch of the isthmus links the Capitol Square to the UW campus via State Street. Over time, the rest of the picture fills itself in with each new neighborhood explored and landmark visited. It's more or less a finite terrain, a set of familiar routes that most longtime residents could walk in their sleep … and then there's virtual Madison. Choose a Destination On the web, the city expands in all directions. Ask anyone who frequents Madison's vast online landscape to map it out for you and you're bound to end up with an interesting—yet incomplete—picture. The local resources available on the web are abundant, which is exactly why, at times, they can also be completely overwhelming to navigate. But this rich territory is very much worth exploring. Don't expect to take it all in at once. Simply pick a few choice destinations to visit, tailored to your personal interests and needs, and then grab your mouse and go! Points of Access To begin your journey, all that's required is curiosity and a good Internet connection. Many Madison coffee shops, cafés, pubs and fast-food joints offer free wireless now, allowing customers easy online access at all hours. In addition to providing a wireless connection for laptop-carrying patrons, every branch of the city's library system has computers available for free public use, in-house. Over seventy percent of the buildings on the UW–Madison campus allow faculty, staff and students to connect to the Internet via wireless network. Add to that the tens of thousands of Madisonians who log on regularly at home and at work and it's fair to say that folks in this city are pretty "well-connected." Local web heads are taking advantage of that ample online access and increasingly user-friendly technology to connect more with one another. We're at our keyboards busily building community and creating lots of Madison-specific content. It's Who You Know Online networking opportunities for Madisonians abound. Got an interest in biodiesel? Love daschunds? Want to find other triathletes to train with? Like chasing storms? There are 450-plus area list-servs available to satisfy interests of just about every variety. If you can't find exactly the right one to serve your needs, it's easy to start your own discussion group and attract kindred spirits. Residents of many Madison neighborhoods stay in touch this way. Do a search of the directories at yahoogroups or googlegroups to look for your neighborhood association listing. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, host many Madison-specific groups as well. Create a personal profile for yourself and in just a few swift clicks find others who share your interests. Badger sports fans connect here, as do music lovers and politicos. Want to make sure you're in the loop? Use these sites to your advantage and tap into the power of a broad social network for lightning-fast event updates and info sharing. These sites have search functions that make it easy to find other users in the same geographical area who are alums of the same school, share hobbies or work interests, and so on. The Daily Page discussion forum is an especially popular online hangout for well-wired locals. The TDP Forum gets used to exchange ideas, announce gigs, ask questions, debate local issues and weigh in on what's going on around town. A quick read of the latest posts on this forum provides an amusing peek into what's on Madison's collective mind at any given moment. Roam the rest of The Daily Page site for news, features, reviews, photos and event info. Lookin' good, Madison Interested to see the city from a different perspective? Take a look at Madison through multiple lenses by visiting the Madison Wisconsin Flickr Group on the photo-sharing website flickr.com. Over 1,000 local shutterbugs participate by uploading pictures that document life in Madison from myriad points of view. Updates are made daily and group members engage in lively online discussions and exchange feedback on photos. Monthly meetups around town allow local photographers to connect face-to-face, share tips and socialize. Like any group drawn together by a common passion, the group attracts a membership of folks whose paths might not otherwise cross. It's another example of how Madisonians are taking advantage of technology to bypass some of the social barriers experienced in the real world and create communities based on shared interests. The complex view of Madison generated by this group is stunning. Be sure to take a look. A life well-blogged Another vibrant and multifaceted view of life in our city is available at Dane 101 "the collaborative blog for Madison, WI." At Dane101.com, an ever-changing crew of local writers, photographers and all-around culture vultures join forces to report on and review everything from roller derby bouts and open mic poetry nights to county board meetings and minor league baseball games. Contributors also often work together to produce live events that celebrate local culture. Dane 101 is penned by people "from and familiar with life here," as explained in its "About" section. The blog "is about the persons, events and issues that shape the region." Visitors add to the dialogue by commenting on posts. This one's a must-have for your list of Madison RSS feeds. Its sister site, Dane101.net, aggregates over one hundred area blogs, thereby providing a perfect home base from which to explore the rest of the local blogosphere. Eat, drink and be merry Some of those local blogs enjoy large audiences—in part because they focus on topics near and dear to many of our hearts, such as food. One such site is Eating in Madison A to Z, which documents the exploits of local foodies Nichole Fromm and JonMichael Rasmus. Photos of meals eaten and locales visited accompany well-written, detailed reviews. The project began as a lark when the couple decided to tackle Madison's restaurant scene by dining out…alphabetically. Their quirky approach and the blog's commercial-free credibility garnered them a loyal following, which in turn egged them on to keep going with the project. Four years and 350-plus restaurant reviews later, they're still at it (they're in the M's now.) "We're so glad that we can share our experiences. Madison is a great place to be and it is fun to tell others about the adventures we've had," said Rasmus. A to Z allows for comments and questions from readers and links to other restaurant review sites for easy access to additional perspectives. Eat up! Where to next? There's a whole wide web out there waiting to be explored. As Madisonians connect and communicate online, they create culture, document local history and cultivate a sense of shared identity for isthmus dwellers in the real world as well. Virtual Madison continues to expand and has no physical boundaries to contain its growth. Where to next? You decide. Angela Richardson is a Madison-based writer, photographer and performing artist. Find her online at flickr.com/photos/olive_talique.

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The Cannery Grill Serves, Savors and Satisfies

I love to eat. Unfortunately, my cooking skills don't evolve much past the microwaving of a Lean Cuisine, so I seize every opportunity to go out to eat that I can—literally celebrating anything for an excuse to eat something that doesn't take up room in my freezer. New job? Finished project? Good hair day? Let's eat! However, for me, it's not just about the food, but about the experience. And frankly, I've had some not so good experiences lately with service. More often than not, my dish will arrive at my table smothered in cheese, that same cheese I specifically requested to be nowhere near my food (yes, I'm from Wisconsin and I hate cheese). I've also noticed a new take on the "dine-and-dash" I call the "serve-and-scramble," where servers drop off food and disappear for twenty minute intervals, leaving you stuck with an empty glass and a plate of flaming hot wings or the wrong dish entirely—like an unwelcomed cheesy burger. That being said, I've grown skeptical of trying new restaurants for fear of being disappointed. Enter the Cannery Grill. The Gods of Dining have finally answered my prayers! I received the correct order and, get this: the service was excellent. Casual, Comfortable, Close The first thing about the Cannery Grill I noticed was the large outdoor patio where patrons sat under a canopy of fading daylight, enjoying laughs and happy hour specials. Upon entering, my attention was drawn to the giant cherry-wood bar area to my left, and most importantly, the young man at the host stand waiting to greet me and offer me a booth seat. As the host showed me to my table, I couldn't get over how spacious the building was. While the metal beams and exposed ventilation of the high ceiling lends the restaurant a hip, modern feel, the cherry-wood chairs, high backed booths and posters from the building's Oconomowoc Canning Co. days give off a cozy, casual feeling. A variety of patrons inform me that the Cannery Grill's menu caters to everyone's appetite as I spot a brooding hipster and his date sitting adjacent to a table of lively seniors. Since the restaurant's opening in July 2007, the delicious cuisine has settled the gripes of many an east-sider who has ever complained, "There's nowhere to eat around here!" Diners' prayers are answered and the short drive to Sun Prairie's blossoming downtown is well worth it. Nestled in Veridian's Cannery Square, the former canning company (which existed from 1901–2001) is one of the many attractions to the updated area. Scrumptious Selection Now for the main attraction: food that more than exceeded expectations. The menu proffered a variety of appetizers, flatbread pizzas, dinner salads, a specialty burger section including their signature Cannery Burger, (as well as a "build your own burger" section), sandwiches, entrees and deserts. The drink menu was just as vast, advertising a large selection of domestic and imported beers, Sea Ridge white and red wines, and specialty martinis including the Flirtini—peach schnapps, Chambord and champagne—and the Cannery—blue curaco, Apple Pucker, Midori and cranberry juice. We began our dining experience a spinach and artichoke flatbread. Though the crust was thin, the pizza was filling, mostly due to the fact that taste was addictive. For the main course, the Shrimp Diablo immediately grabbed my attention after reading the brief but tantalizing description: jumbo shrimp, assorted peppers and onions, chipotle cream sauce, served over wild rice or pasta. I was more than intrigued. Other signature items caught my eye including the Cannery Burger—a seven-ounce patty of beef heaven topped with bacon, guacamole, lettuce and tomato that was just as tasty as it sounded. No More "Secret" Service Our smiling server was friendly, attentive and available. Drinks were quickly replenished and our server waited a sufficient amount of time after our appetizer before delivering our main course, which was still served warm—she apologized for the delay, but I was thankful for the opportunity to digest. After setting down our plates, she made sure that our orders were right and asked if we needed anything else. It sounds standard, but you'd be surprised at how often that's not standard. Though the dining room wasn't full, a decent sized staff could be seen watchfully attending to each table. A busser made sure no table stayed dirty longer than a minute after a table had been vacated. After a satisfying meal and equally satisfying bill—dinner for two including appetizer and drinks cost just over $30—it's safe to say that the Cannery Grill is a welcome addition to Sun Prairie that locals and East-siders can happily enjoy and call their own. The Cannery Grill315 E. Linnerud Dr., Sun Prairie. 837-4999. thecannerygrill.com

Let That Deal Go Down

View Slideshow » Early on an April morning Madison neighborhood activist Bob Queen is taking care of business in room 137 of a worn out Days Inn on the outskirts of Lafayette, Louisiana. The door to his makeshift motel office is open wide to the sidewalk where members of Mali's Mamadou Diabate Ensemble roll metal crates filled with drums, stringed instruments and costumes from a storage room. A tangy blue haze of tobacco smoke floats above the exotic sounds of French-Bambara conversation. Queen slides his Marquette Neighborhood Association business card across the table to a young, French Canadian musician named Tania Elizabeth. As she reaches for the card the petite fiddler's forearm exposes a colorful cross-stitching of tattoos. Elizabeth's band, The Duhks (pronounced "ducks"), Winnipeg's celebrated new traditional string band, will headline one of five stages in the weekend stretch of the Festival International de Louisiane. For five, music-filled days each April, the ratty but lovingly run motel is transformed into a southern fried musician's village. Performers and their managers take over nearly every room of the motel. The small dining area is transformed into a twenty-four-hour drop-in buffet. Tables are continuously replenished with deep pans of freshly made crawfish etouffée, tureens of rice, shrimp, and chicken gumbo, bowls of jambalaya, buckets of fried chicken, baskets of hot biscuits and sheets of fresh-baked cookies.

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