Category Archives: 2. Meetings

Revitalizing Downtown Madison Post Pandemic

Brad Binkowski

Between the pandemic and the protests, Brad Binkowski believes downtown Madison has gone through one of the most tumultuous years imaginable and looks now like it did in the 1980’s when retail moved out to the malls. He believes it’s important to remember what downtown was; imagine what it can be again; and take the steps necessary to get it there. He says private sector investment is a necessary component of that revival.

Brad stressed the importance of building underground parking to reactivate sidewalks for pedestrians and customers and said the city needs to help cover the extraordinary costs. He says underground parking is behind the success of Urban Land Interests’ development of Block 89 which turned vacant buildings and surface parking into 560,000 square feet of office space on a block that now has the highest assessed value in the city. Brad says multi-modal transportation is growing, but the reality is that tenants demand parking.

ULI is now looking to develop the American Exchange block on the square – a development that has been 23 years in the making. The project, which ULI hopes to start in 2022, will have 805 underground parking stalls and 300,000 square feet of office space targeted to tech companies. Brad says the revenue the block will generate will help the city advance other initiatives.

Brad believes Madison has extraordinary strengths: a quality of life that doesn’t exist in many other places; a labor pool that includes the highest percent of educated millennials; and the highest net in-migration of tech employees in the country. But he says we desperately need a vision of what downtown can be.

Brad closed by saying that Rotary is a force that is committed to a vision for downtown and is critical to creating a dialogue on a plan for downtown Madison and a strategy on how to get there.
Our thanks to Brad Binkowski for speaking this week and to Janet Piraino for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:

How to Be Curious and Why It Matters

Anne Strainchamps

Anne Strainchamps spoke virtually to Rotarians this week on January 20. As a veteran public radio host and producer, Strainchamps shared “How To Be Curious And Why It Matters.”

As a journalist, Anne said, “Curiosity is the DNA of our radio show.” She said curiosity is the key to learning, progress, invention; inventors are driven by curiosity.

“Curiosity is a habitat that can be cultivated,” Anne said. She continued, “We teach math, history, why not curiosity? It’s the one skill I value most; my job is to be professionally curious, and it’s my life’s satisfaction.”

But you can’t wait for it to strike. Anne told Rotarians to hunt for that spark and feed it by asking lots of questions. Asking good questions is a lost art. She suggested asking beautiful questions, questions that spark stories such as, “What do you treasure in your home and why?”

Science is a way of asking questions about the universe; politics is another opportunity for good questions. In today’s environment of polarization, Anne says it’s difficult to be curious and angry at the same time. She told the story of a former coworker, Barbara, who could disarm office conflict when hearing such a story by pausing…then asking, “Why would they say that?” And you would realize you were caught up in being angry or right.

Anne Strainchamps is the host of To the Best of Our Knowledge. She co-founded the show, along with Jim Fleming and husband Steve Paulson, and has been a featured interviewer on the program for more than a decade. She has worked in public broadcasting at WAMU in Washington, DC, and at NPR.

Our thanks to Anne Strainchamps for speaking this week and to Valerie Renk for preparing this review article. Our apologies for the technical difficulties during our livestreamed meeting on January 20. We have reloaded Anne’s video presentation, and you can view it without interruptions here:

Behind the Scenes of “The Niceties”

The impetus for Eleanor Burgess’s play “The Niceties” was a 2015 incident at Yale, Eleanor’s Alma mater, that involved a disagreement between faculty, administrators and students about whether Yale should be setting guidelines about which Halloween costumes are appropriate. Those in favor of guidance were trying to ward off controversies over students seen in black face, or stereotypical Native American costumes. Those opposed believed one of the purposes of college is for kids to learn to self regulate and make their own decisions.

Friends lost the ability to talk to each other as the controversy continued.  While this is common today, it was unique in 2015.  People felt the need to pick a side: the university doesn’t have the responsibility to coddle whining snowflakes vs. there should be consequences of making students of color feel uncomfortable. 

After two months of obsessively reading op/eds about the incident in her pajamas, Eleanor realized this incident should become a play. 

Eleanor said she naively thought the play would be out of date by the time it was produced.  But in today’s era of Trump, and the killing of George Floyd, we are still having these conversations.  The difference is, in the play, the professor and student have faith and admiration for each other and believe they can change each other’s minds if they just make the right arguments.  Today, we would back out of those conversations much faster and realize it’s hopeless.

   Eleanor hopes we can learn to talk together again – to thread the needle and realize that two things can both be true at the same time.  In the play, the professor says, “no matter how much we disagree, we’re still stuck in a country together.”  But today, we don’t even share the same reality or set of facts. Eleanor believes we can’t live this way forever. Restoring our capacity to have conversations with people we disagree with is not just a nicety, it is a fundamental necessity. 

Our thanks to Eleanor Burgess for speaking this week and to club member Julie Swenson who interviewed her.  We also thank Janet Piraino for preparing this review article.  If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:

Panel of Rotarians Discussed How Pandemic Has Affected Local Businesses

Jan 6 2021 Panelists

From left: Juli Aulik, Ted Ballweg, Jeannie Cullen Schultz, Stacy Nemeth and Jason Ilstrup

The following Rotarians participated in a panel discussion moderated by Jason Ilstrup: Juli Aulik, Community relations Director for UW Health, represented the health care industry; Ted Ballweg, owner of Savory Accents, represented the Farm to Table industry; Jeannie Cullen Schultz, Co-president of JP Cullen, represented the construction industry; and Stacy Nemeth, Chief Operating Officer for Fiore Companies, Inc., represented the commercial real estate business.
Question: How Has COVID Changed the way you do business?
Juli: We learned how to be nimble, transparent, innovative and collaborative in ways we never dreamed of. We had to move more quickly than ever, be more patient than ever, and use technology in new ways: telemedicine and new forms of PPE.
Jeannie: We lost 25% of our business plan on April 1st. We had to learn how to negotiate and manage projects virtually. State projects and our backlog allowed us to stay in business.
Stacy: Our biggest challenge was helping our tenants–especially restaurants and small retailers–survive while facing our own financial challenges. Our buildings went from full occupancy to empty in 24 hours. We undertook large capital projects to make our buildings “touchless” while tenants were out of the buildings.
Ted: We used to reach 95% of our customers through farmers markets. We adapted by moving the Dane County Farmers Market to the Alliant Center, launching a new website, working with companies that provided weekly deliveries and growing our e-commerce four fold. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but there were many positives.
Question: What are permanent changes?
Ted: Cash is going away. Now a business can’t survive without PayPal or Venmo.
Stacy: Rapid adoption of technology. Things that would’ve taken us five years to implement happened in a few months. We found great tools for teleworking. Companies will need to decide whether to bring employees back to a physical workplace. It will look different.
Jeannie: We couldn’t work remotely so we had to learn new job site protocols to stay safe and socially distance in small spaces with many workers. We held monthly town halls with our employees.
Juli: Telehealth is here to stay. It improved attendance, especially with older patients who are the least eager to drive. Also, loyalty is here to stay. We have an obligation to shop local.
Question: What were the positive lessons?
Jeannie: We’re proud of our company and community. Great employees and great cultures will persevere.
Juli: People are kind and giving. Staff worked extra shifts. The community showed their support.
Stacy: Creativity of human spirit. People adapt by pivoting their lives and their families to keep relationships strong.
Ted: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Customers volunteered to help harvest when I couldn’t do it myself.
Our thanks to this week’s panelists: Juli Aulik, Ted Ballweg, Jeannie Cullen Schultz and Stacy Nemeth; to Jason Ilstrup for serving as moderator; and to Janet Piraino for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:

Young Leaders Shaping a New America

Steven Olikara is the founder and CEO of the national Millennial Action Project (MAP) based in Washington DC.  It is the largest nonpartisan organization of millennial lawmakers and seeks to build a new generation of leadership to bridge the political divides that threaten our democracy and future.

He founded the Millennial Action Project because he saw a need to develop and work with younger members of legislatures and change the tone of politics from contempt and hatred for the other side into compassion, understanding, and building bridges to reach agreement and compromise.  He wanted to facilitate a future-oriented mindset with young leaders rather than be limited to dwelling on the divisions and conflicts of the past.

Even though partisanship and political separation has been on the rise for some time, MAP encourages and supports the rise of the millennial generation into leadership roles and helps them develop future-focused policy and bi-partisan coalitions to get initiatives across the line.  MAP does this through affiliation and support of chapters in each state that identify issues, policies and people to find common ground.

Three issues MAP has identified for further work are election resiliency, gerrymander reform and gun violence prevention.  While it may seem that these issues are as divisive and partisan as they come, MAP has been able to achieve some successes by listening, staying focused on the future, and identifying moderate and swing legislative partners to form coalitions. 

Learning lessons from the spring and fall elections in Wisconsin, MAP is working on strengthening voting systems and, because of the large number of absentee and mail-in ballots in the most recent cycle, working on legislation to allow pre-processing of early ballots.

On gerrymander reform, MAP has found that there are members on both sides who are willing to reform how boundaries are created.  For those who want to reform the system the unifying desire is to have leaders who win based on the best ideas rather than by manipulation of the system and disregard for other interests and constituencies.  They have achieved victories in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan and Missouri.

The victory they achieved with gun violence prevention is to win authorization and funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to begin studying gun violence as a public health issue.  It is hoped that looking at it from a scientific and rigorous perspective that policies and laws can be developed to protect society from further proliferation of gun violence.

He encouraged us to choose to exercise more compassion and empathy towards the “other” and recognize that many leaders manipulate and profit from hate that is amplified on social media.  Empathy and compassion need to be exercised to grow, and we should choose and support leaders who build bridges and appeal to our better angels.

Our thanks to Steven Olikara for his presentation this week and to Kevin Hoffman for preparing this review article.  We also thank WisEye who co-streamed our online meeting this week.  If you missed our meeting, you can watch it here:

“Madison is an Outlier,” says Eileen Harrington, Chair of Madison’s Taskforce on Government Structure

Eileen Harrington, who spent her career in public service, recently served as Chair of Madison’s Taskforce on Government Structure (“TFOGS”). At the Rotary podium on October 21, she pointed out Madison’s city government needs restructuring. For example, fewer Madison residents are represented by local government compared to cities like Minneapolis and Austin.

She opened the program by asking, “What would it cost to have a full-time Common Council so that our city can thrive when we have excluded so many people?  We need all hands on deck.”

Harrington, who grew up in Madison, retired from the Senior Executive Service of the United States Government at the end of 2012 after a distinguished twenty-eight year career protecting American consumers and leading change and programs in two different federal agencies.  From 2010 through 2012 she served as Executive Director of the Federal Trade Commission, the senior career staff position at the FTC.  Before that, she served as Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

In 2004, she was awarded a Service to America Medal for her work creating the National Do Not Call Law and Registry. This is the same medal Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, recently received.

Madison’s Taskforce on Government Structure (seven residents and four alders) spent two years working together holding more than 90 meetings and making 42 recommendations.

Harrington said recommendations include the following:  alderpersons should serve full time, the number of alders be reduced from 20 to 10 and that they serve four years instead of two years.

Currently, the Madison Common Council is a city council that consists of 20 alderpersons elected from 20 wards who serve two-year terms.

Another issue with the current structure is the disjointed source of information. Harrington explained, there are 102 boards, committees and commissions connected to Madison government but no one place to find information.

She ended the program by saying, “We need more full-time engagement on city boards, commissions and committees.”    She also noted that there’s a lack of diversity in Madison’s city government and that is especially true with economic diversity.

Our thanks to Eileen Harrington for her presentation this week and to Sharyn Alden for preparing this review article. If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here: