Finally, a Good Place for a Day Center, But Bad Process Is Still Bad Process

By Brenda Konkel — Even if it is for a good cause.  I’m thrilled about the Messner’s site [1300 block of East Washington Avenue] for the day center and the fact that the county has an accepted offer to purchase, but damn, do they have to make it so hard for it to be successful? Mark your calendar — neighborhood meeting quickly put together by Alder Ledell Zellers and Supervisor Heidi Wegnleitner to slow the process down and get this right! We can’t screw this one up too, can we?

I despise governing by press release. I further despise bad neighborhood process when it comes to development. And I further despise crappy political maneuvering. And the news that the Messners building has an accepted offer to purchase has it all.

Make no mistake, I support the location as it is the best we have been able to find in 4 years.

But make no mistake, this can’t be rammed down the neighborhood’s throat either.

Wednesday morning it came as a great surprise at 8:35 when I found out “we have a location”. And minutes later at 8:39 I found out it was Messners. Ledell Zellers notified the neighborhood by 11:48. The press release came out at 12:06. State Journal was calling me already by 10:30. Article was up as the press release was going out. The communications about this (except the press release) came from CITY staff, not county.

And here we are.

Miraculously, in less than 48 hours, Alder Ledell Zellers and Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner, who were equally in the dark and just told 3 weeks ago that this was even a possibility, have already set up a neighborhood meeting, at Messners on October 7th.

County officials are scrambling to schedule special meetings and get this done as quickly as possible. This is a mistake. They have an accepted offer to purchase and the only contingency (I’m told) is that the county board approve the purchase, but there is no time line on that. (I’m told) I haven’t seen the offer to purchase. If this is the case, we need to slow down and do this right.

In a perfect world, given where we are at, this is what would/could happen:

  • County immediately notify the city and neighborhood about the intent to apply for a conditional use. (They need 30 days notice prior to submitting the CUP)
  • October 7th – Neighborhood meeting where neighbors express concerns and ask questions. Questions get answered where possible and questions that can’t be answered they are noted for a future meeting. Mechanisms set up for people to ask questions outside of the meetings. Maybe a small neighborhood group appointed to work to work on concerns and solutions. At this meeting a list of meetings where this will be considered would be shared (hopefully its worked out by then)
  • October for county process = various county committees consider the resolution to purchase the building. I believe the relevant committees would be Homeless Issues Committee (meets the 4th Tuesday of the month, Oct 26), Health and Human Needs (Meets 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month – 6th and 20th of Oct or Nov 3rd ) and Personnel and Finanace (meets Oct 5th and 26th, then works on budget the 2nd, 4th, 9th and 10th, and meets again Nov 23rd.) Looks like a possible schedule could be:
    • Homeless Issues Committee could meet the 26th
    • Public Works and Transportation (seem to have no pattern to their meetings)
    • Health and Human and Needs could meet on Nov 3rd
    • Personnel and Finance could meet Nov 4th
    • County Board could meet Nov 5th.
    • If this doesn’t work out, it would get delayed until December 3rd unless they took this up at their budget meeting on November 16th.
  • October = a second or even third neighborhood meeting.
  • October = the county starts working on the CUP materials and RFP for a provider.
  • November = continued neighborhood meetings if the sale goes through the county board.
  • November/December – plans to winterize and make ready for temporary use.
  • November the county goes through committees with plans for the building and rfp for provider.
  • December the CUP process at the plan commission
  • January get in RFP proposals and decide
  • Consider temporary opening in January – March.
  • April – August renovations
  • September – GRAND OPENING! 5+ years in the making!

It’s just one vision of what could happen. It might be pushing it with the temporary opening this winter, but we have to try. But we can’t rush it and hire a bad provider and have this fail with the neighborhood and for the people who will be using the facility. A bad rep in the homeless community would also be a failure. This has to be done right, and it has to be done in collaboration with the neighborhood and we need to make sure all their needs are met.

Another version is to push this through ASAP and approve at the County Board meeting on October 15th. Which I believe is the track this is on. Meaning Health and Human Needs and Public Works could take it up Oct 6th. Homeless Issues Committee could get skipped altogether unless they schedule a special meeting. I hope this isn’t the route they choose.

This is all we officially know at the moment.

Here’s the resolution for the county board.


A property is for sale near downtown Madison that may be suitable for a day resource center for the homeless. The property includes three buildings with the addresses of 1314, 1316/1318 and 1326 E. Washington Avenue.

1326 E. Washington Avenue is a large building with approximately 10,000 square feet on the first floor. This building has the potential to serve as a day resource center for the homeless. 1314 E. Washington Avenue is a four‐unit rental property. The County will not displace the tenants as a result of the purchase. 1316/1318 E. Washington Avenue is a relatively small building that is adjacent to 1326 E. Washington Avenue and will be included in planning of 1326 E. Washington Avenue.

The County has entered into a contract to purchase the property for $1,425,000 by December 31, 2015. The contract includes a $10,000 non‐refundable earnest money payment that shall be applied as a credit to the County at closing.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Dane County Board of Supervisors hereby authorizes the purchase of 1314, 1316/1318 and 1326 E. Washington Avenue for up to $1,425,000;

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that staff are authorized to administer the closing and the transfer of property to Dane County and the Controller is authorized to issue checks necessary to effectuate the transaction.

I see room for conditions to address neighborhood concerns.

Here’s the press release.

Dane County Executive Parisi Announces Accepted Offer On Permanent Day Resource Site Downtown

MADISON- Today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced that Dane County has an accepted offer to purchase 1326 East Washington Avenue as the future site of a permanent Homeless Day Resource Center. The building was purchased for $1,425,000, is centrally located, and at 19,000 square feet offers space for a variety of needs for the homeless community.

“This day resource center will be a critical system to link for our community members who have fallen on hard times to community resources and to move people from homelessness or near homelessness to employment and permanent housing,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “This process has had its challenges. But I am proud to report that we will move forward to work to have the Day Resource Center up and running as quickly as possible.”

The Messner property is on a bus route and near the Yahara River Bike Path and the Capital City Bike Trail. The property is located approximately two miles from the Capitol Square, near services that include emergency overnight shelter for men, temporary and emergency overnight shelter for women and families, and the Madison Central Library. The site is less than a mile away from several free meal sites as well.

“This community has waited many years for a one-stop-shop containing critical services to help those in need,” said Parisi, “The County is eager to work with the neighborhood, community leaders, elected officials, and the City of Madison to gather input, address questions the community may have, and ultimately make a downtown day resource center a reality by October of 2016.”

Additional costs will be necessary to renovate the Messner property to operate as a day resource center. An estimate for those costs will be reached following a building inspection and engineering assessments.

A permanent day resource center is intended to be part of an overall system to link individuals to community resources and to move people as quickly as possible from homelessness or near homelessness to employment and permanent housing.

Day resource center is intended to include private offices and meeting rooms to allow providers to meet confidentially with individuals and families and connect them to or provide them with community services, including employment and training, permanent housing, economic assistance, legal services, health care, mental health services, alcohol and other drug addiction treatment, and more.

The facility is also intended to provide for basic needs that are critical to many individuals and families experiencing homelessness, such as private, accessible showers, storage space for personal items, laundry facilities, meals, space to stay cool or keep warm, and access to a haircuts, a kitchen, and food storage. Other features we intend to include are access to telephones, a computer lab, a mail/message center, a day room, an outdoor area, areas for quiet resting, an area for families who may need to access services with their children, and more.

Dane County has been looking for a suitable site for a day shelter for several years. Locations beyond the downtown area on Wright Street, Lien Road and in the Town of Madison on Martin Street have all been thoroughly vetted. Locations closer to the city center have also been pursued, including the temporary day resource center location from three years ago at 857 East Washington Avenue, and more recently at the current Bellini Restaurant at the intersection of East Washington and South Hancock Street. In addition to these locations, Dane County has considered dozens of other sites but all were rejected based on a combination of location, cost, size or condition concerns.

With this accepted offer on the Messner property, Dane County will abandon its efforts to obtain a conditional use permit from the Town of Madison for use of the Martin Street location as a day resource center. The Town of Madison had previously denied the use of that property as a day resource center, claiming it was an incompatible use under their zoning code.

This offer will need to be approved by the Dane County Board and then obtain approval from Madison City Zoning before beginning architectural plans and renovation on the property.

At least this forced them to abandon Martin St. But as I mentioned above, this governing by press release isn’t the way it should be done.