Building a New Vision for Downtown Madison

Club President Jorge Hidalgo (left) pictured here with guest speaker and fellow Rotarian Jason Ilstrup (right)

The recent protests calling for social justice and racial equality have awakened many to the challenges people of color face daily that create barriers to business ownership and feeling safe and welcome downtown.

Downtown Madison, Inc. President Jason Ilstrup defined the “downtown” footprint adding that the Business Improvement Impact’s footprint is more centrally focused around the square. Eighty-five percent of downtown residents are 18-34.  Many are college students who may not return to living downtown at this time. Also, many employees are working from home. Events and tourism are also on hold. Thus, the footprint of people living, working and visiting downtown has shrunk.  Seventy percent of revenue for shopping/retail comes from events and tourism; our economy is challenged.

COVID-19 has shed light on the racial disparities that exist in our community – including business ownership, employment, transportation, health care, education and safety. Now is the time for us to address these issues and be change agents to create a downtown that is truly welcoming. Dense cities have creative centers, employment opportunities and create the environment for regular collaboration to meet diverse needs. We need to invest intentionally to create a thriving, diverse center.

DMI has assembled a Downtown Recovery group to develop short- and long-term actions to support economic recovery and a welcoming environment that breaks down racial disparities. Goals include mitigating business closures, supporting entrepreneurs of color, increasing safety, making use of public spaces and finding ways to support safe outdoor and indoor retail/dining options. It will take a collaborative effort from businesses, the city, individuals, non-profits and the entire community to build this new vision.

Please send Jason your ideas for downtown’s future, order take out from local restaurants and buy local to support local jobs.

Our thanks to club member Jason Ilstrup for his presentation this week and to Emily Gruenewald for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/Ow_Mys7ddgw.   

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