From Parking Lot to Great Neighborhood: an Urban Redevelopment Opportunity

The Governor’s recent capital budget request calls for the redevelopment of the Hill Farms State Transportation Building in Madison. 1000 Friends of Wisconsin supports this proposal – read our analysis which explains why the project is good for the state, city and the neighborhood.

Hill Farms Neighborhood

The Hill Farms Neighborhood17_acres

The offices of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which also houses the Department of Motor Vehicles, are located on 21 acres of state property in the middle of this mixed use neighborhood.  WisDOT maintains a 17 acre parking lot on the property which can accommodate approximately 1400 hundred vehicles.  The majority of the parking is reserved for employees while a smaller portion is provided to WisDOT customers.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Hill Farms Site
Wisconsin Department of Transportation Hill Farms Site

The purpose of this document is to outline potential redevelopment opportunities at the site. The proposed plan will allow for more sustainable use of the land, in addition to providing financial benefits to both the state and to the city while improving the quality of life in the Hill Farms Neighborhood.
The Hill Farms parking lot is surrounded by mixed-use developments which enhance the quality of life and contribute towards maintaining a vibrant and livable community. The parking lot is underutilized and also visually unattractive and lowers the property values of adjacent properties.

Artist rendering of potential new development
Artist rendering of potential new development (by Matt Covert)

According to recent Department of Administration estimates, the state spends around $80,000 annually on maintenance and repair of the parking lot. The expanse of asphalt is impervious and constitutes a major source of storm water runoff. This large volume of water also causes periodic flooding at the intersection of University Avenue and Midvale Boulevard and in the surrounding Shorewood Hills neighborhood.

Flooding on University Avenue
Flooding on University Avenue

The existence of the lot also removes incentives for WisDOT employees to use public transit – and attracts automobile traffic, which significantly degrades the quality of life in the neighborhood.

We propose that the state consider selling the 17 acre parking lot at the site and allow it to be redeveloped to uses more suited to the characteristics of the neighborhood. Such a sale would have numerous benefits to the State, Dane County and the City of Madison in addition to enhancing quality of life in the Hill Farms Neighborhood.  Additionally, the state could consider selling the entire 21 acres and relocate the WisDOT offices to a less costly site. Using estimates from similarly zoned properties in the area, the state would stand to gain approximately $10 – 15 million from the sale of the 17 acre parking lot.  Converting the parking lot to a mixed-use development would increase the property value and net the city close to $1 million in property taxes annually. It would provide a unique opportunity to create transit-oriented development which improves pedestrian and bike access and build on the recent redevelopment of the entire Hilldale Mall area. Sustainable storm water management on the redeveloped lot would prevent large volumes of surface water runoff and prevent flooding and pollution of the lakes.property_tax

Several studies have shown that excessive parking is detrimental to economic vibrancy and does not help alleviate roadway congestion. The benefits associated with providing parking are outweighed many times over by its long term costs. Instead, cities which make places of work and recreation accessible by bike, foot and public transit see significant economic benefits.

Artist rendering of current site
Artist rendering of current site (by Matt Covert)
Artist rendering of potential new site
Artist rendering of potential new site (by Matt Covert)

As an incentive for WisDOT employees to use public transportation, we suggest that they be offered monthly travel passes from Madison Metro Transit. This will boost transit ridership in the city and take cars off the road, resulting in reduced congestion and improved air quality. Metro Transit has indicated that they are also willing to work with the state to provide park-and-ride services from remote lots. By taking the lead on this project, the Department of Transportation would set an example of sustainable planning and transportation practices which may well be emulated by other businesses and agencies in the state.