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Downtown lease plans still being reviewed

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Alison Ahlgrim, News Editor

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Madison College administrators have been discussing the future of the college’s Downtown Campus since the early 1970s. At that time, the college was beginning to outgrow the downtown building, yet it took about 15 years until the college completed construction on the Truax campus. At that time, administrators also decided to maintain a presence downtown for the foreseeable future.

Fast forward 45 years, and an even larger question looms in front of college administrators: which of five proposals to lease the Downtown Campus is the most beneficial to students and the community, most financially solvent, and in the best interest of the college’s future?

Mark Thomas, Madison College’s vice president of administrative services said, “This is a huge, long-term obligation for the college. We’re essentially going to be married to this company for 100 years.”

Due to the length of the ground lease, administrators emphasize that they are doing their due diligence to vet the potential developers through stringent reference checks, business plan reviews, financial audits, and lengthy interviews.

Though the ground lease option met some criticism from students and faculty, the alternative was to sell the building for $12 million, which would be a one-time financial boost for the college.

“The ground lease is better for the long-term stability of the college,” Thomas said.

Given the newly constructed spaces at the Truax campus, the re-opening of a West Campus, and the proposed expansion of the South Campus, administrators determined the timing was right to begin discussing how to get “the best value for its asset [the downtown campus],” said Thomas.

Additionally, because several programs, including the dental hygiene and barber-cosmetology programs, have already moved from the Downtown Campus to new space at Truax, a significant portion of the building is currently under-utilized.

 “When decisions have been made about programming, students have been given plenty of notice about location or program changes,” Thomas said. “The program staff are being very thoughtful about where the programs should be and conscious about helping students make those transitions.”

He cites the immense amount of effort from student services to ensure that students successfully made the transition through the closing and re-opening of the West Campus and notes that this process will be similar.

“Rest assured that there will be plenty of communication and student services’ assistance in the transition,” Thomas said. “People worry ‘what’s going to happen to me?’ And we want to reassure people that we will do our best to ease the transition. Nobody’s job is being displaced because of this.”

Some programs are set to move next semester, others in the next year or two. The Downtown Campus will still be occupied by Madison College for the next academic year (2017-18), but the college’s presence there in 2018-19 depends on selection of and negotiations with a developer.

“The administration is here to make sure that students know what is going on, and how it will affect them,” Thomas said.

While The Cap Times reported that the Madison College Board considered narrowing the field of proposals from five to three at a closed session meeting on April 12, the board ultimately decided that it wanted to gather more background information on all five proposals and felt no need to rush the process.

Despite this, Thomas said the plan remains that Madison College President Jack Daniels will make a single recommendation to “negotiate and enter into a ground lease” with the selected developer at the May 3 Madison College Board meeting. The Board can then approve or deny that choice.

If approved, the proposal will move onto the Wisconsin Technical College System Board (WTCS) in July for a concept review, and then onto a second review by WTCS in early 2018 after necessary permits are obtained.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Slideshow of proposal summaries for the Madison College Downtown Campus land lease currently under review

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Downtown lease plans still being reviewed