‘It feels like the city has no leadership’: Business owners, advocates, react to lack of support for State Street proposal

MADISON, Wis. – Business owners and advocates in Madison’s downtown say the city’s decision to not support the State Street Promenade idea is the latest example of city leaders not being there for businesses.

The plan centered around closing State Street to traffic on 14 Saturdays and Sundays during the summer of 2021, with hopes the space could be used by businesses and pedestrians.

As you walk state street and you look at those vacancies, we’re trying to find ways to revitalize and reenergize the street,” said Tiffany Kenney, Executive Director of Madison’s Central Business Improvement District. “I’m a little surprised that we didn’t get the support.”

The motion went before the City of Madison’s Transportation Commission Wednesday night, who largely opposed shutting down the entire street for concerns of how it would impact Metro Transit routes.

In a memo from Metro Transit to the commission, Metro General Manager Justin Stuehrenberg wrote that shutting down State Street could add 2-3 minutes to bus routes, which could pose problems for riders missing their next stop.

The commission then advised Kenney and the BID to come back with more information on how a partial closure of state, in the 400-700 blocks, could operate. Kenney says they’ll now focus on trying to get other downtown programs up and running, instead.

If Cars on State could come back, or if the art fair could come back downtown, or the farmers market, if all of those projects who’ve been part of downtown could come back downtown, we’re going to focus some of our energies on making sure those are as successful as we possibly can,” Kenney said. 

For business owners along State Street, the city’s refusal to budge on a plan that’d impact bus routes less than 30 days of the summer sends another message.

It feels like the city has no leadership to know what they want to do,” said John Hayes, owner of Goodman’s Jeweler’s. “We all have to try and work through that and get some real direction that we’re going to make positive advance. Right now, it feels like we’re just floundering. We’re not getting anything accomplished.”

Hayes says while the a promenade wouldn’t necessarily even be designed to benefit a business like his, it’d be a chance to serve other businesses nearby.

After all, nearly 30 of 50 the business closures in Downtown Madison have been on State Street alone.

“It’s something as simple as taking and relocating the busses so that restaurants can go out into the street, and merchants can have stands of their merchandise outside and encourage more of their people to come down and be active, to be more involved,” Hayes said. “I think a lot of people are still struggling because of the lack of traffic.”

Hayes says he’s hopeful as more people return to downtown, things can change. Although he’s not certain the city will do much to make it happen.

The city hasn’t, in my opinion, done quite enough to really progress and go forward and get things done,” Hayes said. “They take votes and sit on things, but they don’t make a decision. They have to make a decision and make it so the downtown Madison gets back to being a vibrant place.”