Monday, June 13, 2005

Monroe Commons Update: It's (Unofficially) Trader Joe's

by Tom Bozzo

So reports Madison's superior newspaper. As signing of the grocery store lease was the last hurdle for the development (to meet TIF conditions), demolition of the old Ken Kopp's building should quickly follow a formal announcement.

Update 10/20/06: It's open.
I couldn't find the article in the Wisconsin State Journal ;-).

This is good news I would think. I didn't realize that the city thought about condemning the property at one point or that they barred Curves from locating there.
I think it's good news, too. (Probably broke after deadline for this morning's WSJ.) I tend to see this as a catch-more-flies-with-honey example, as giving the neighbors what they want (grocery store) put a higher-valued development on the property than would otherwise have occurred.

As for the possibility of condemnation, I don't know how far along that ever got, but my understanding is that there was a lot of frustration in the neighborhood over High Point Properties' handling of the property -- or more specifically, their inability to come up with a workable redevelopment plan.

I also don't think it's quite correct to say that the city barred Curves. Rather, I think the property would have needed to be re-zoned, or at least get a conditional use permit (basically, a temporary rezoning for a specific purpose), for Curves. That generally requires assent, or at least lack of significant dissent, from the neighbors, which was not going to be forthcoming. Curves sensibly moved into a vacant space a few blocks away in Knickerbocker Place, which I'd think is also more consistent with what I understand of its business model.
Though I am still sad that Willy Street Coop didn't get the site, it's great to know that a grocery store will be walking distance from my house. Yah!
Hopefully you're far enough away that the construction period won't be too bad. Once it's done, your location will be ideal. We'll occasionally walk that far, but it's a long way to be lugging groceries.
I don't know anything about your local situation. But with that caveat, I gotta say, "Yay, TJ's!"

I find their combination of cheap basics and affordable luxury difficult to resist. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

If their website is up to date, this will be the first one in Wisconsin.
Scott, the other leading contender for the site, the Willy Street Co-Op, is locally-owned and popular, and was perceived by some of the neighbors (including us) as very useful to have in the neighborhood. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that TJ's will be just fine, too. The neighborhood really wanted another grocery store on the site.

I tend to think TJ's will be better than the alternatives for other Monroe St. businesses (it would anchor a couple blocks of retail shops along the street), as it would seem likelier to draw shoppers who wouldn't otherwise visit the area.
Tom, when you say that the neighborhood really wanted a grocery store there, was there a vote?

just curious.
Bryan, I don't think there was a vote as such. I'm basing my statement in part on the Monroe St. grocery co-op's efforts. MSGC had signed up 663 members mostly out of the Dudgeon-Monroe, Vilas, and Regent neighborhoods, which is not an inconsiderable fraction of the surrounding population -- there are, for instance, about 950 housing units in Dudgeon-Monroe (approx. the area bounded by Monroe St., the SW path, Regent St., and Odana Rd.). My third post ever had commented on the relative frequency of Co-op versus Kerry yard signs in the early campaignin season.

Also for you, here's an account of the Curves situation, from a 2002 letter the editor of the Cap Times, from the MSGC board:

"In January, High Pointe Properties did unveil a plan to 'accommodate' the grocery co-op, and asked for a zoning variance to include space for a Curves for Women franchise. After raising several concerns (including inadequate parking and inadequate space for the grocery) at a public meeting on the rezoning, the neighborhood appeared poised to accept a partial rezone of the property to accommodate Curves for Women, but apparently High Pointe Properties chose not to pursue it, as they have taken no other action. This is not a stunning revelation to anyone aware that High Pointe Properties also owns the old Cain-Ashcroft building on Monroe Street, a large space most recently occupied by Moze's that has been unoccupied and deteriorating for close to two and a half years."
Well, I'm happy if you're happy. Trader Joe's is a place I will shop at. Several people in my lab love Trader Joe's from experiences they had elsewhere.
hey everyone,

i'm considering moving into the monroe commons and was wondering if any of you had input as to why NOT to do so. I see a ton of benefits to the new building but not much negative. Any help?
Anon, the Monroe Commons location is great, though Monroe St. is busy thus somewhat noisy. The Harrison St/West Lawn sides of the building would probably be preferable for that reason.

Otherwise, the main issues I can see would be price and your inclination to own a condo vs. a house. If you aren't set on a condo, there is a lot of single-family inventory in the area (77 houses in the MLS for the W12 and W14 areas, including Dudgeon-Monroe, University Heights, Vilas, and Nakoma neighborhoods, plus some FSBOs), and you can probably get more for $300-500K that way. Most of the interior sections of the surrounding neighborhoods will be quieter than the Monroe Commons location.
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