The city of Madison has endorsed a plan to pay McDonald's more than $300,000 to settle a 2008 lawsuit alleging that a recently constructed pedestrian footbridge has crippled business at an East Side branch of the fast food behemoth.
"The bridge completely blocks the view of that restaurant when heading out of town from the Capitol," said Mike Mangin, a vice president with Missoula Mac Inc. of Poynette, which operates the franchise at 3051 E. Washington Ave. "By time you see the sign it's too late to get to the restaurant."
McDonald's Corp., which owns the land and building, has been tussling with the city for the past few years about how much the Starkweather Creek project has cost the restaurant.
In 2006, the city offered McDonald's $56,000 in compensation for traffic disruptions and accessibility changes caused by construction. McDonald's appealed in 2008, claiming damages of $408,900. Because of the large gap, assistant city attorney Doran Viste wrote in a memo, the case is scheduled to proceed to a jury trial beginning Sept. 20.
The city and McDonald's met Aug. 9 and agreed to settle for $312,000, according to Viste's memo. Viste recommended the city accept the terms, a plan endorsed by city attorney Michael May and engineer Rob Phillips, rather than risk a jury trial that could cost the city more, he said.
"I believe we'll come out better given the complexities of the case and the valuation issues involved," he said. The settlement money, if approved, will come from existing funds in the construction fund.
Ald. Larry Palm, who represents the district, supports the settlement although he knows it won't go over well with some people.
"The McDonald's Corporation, while large and well-funded, still has just as much right to be compensated for something the city does," he said. "We've built the bridge, we're not going to change that scenario, and we have to pay."
The proposal was unanimously approved at the Board of Estimates meeting Monday night and will go before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday before it comes up for vote at next Tuesday's City Council meeting.
The settlement needs to be approved before the Sept. 20 start of trial, Viste said.
The pedestrian bridge, opened in 2008, provides a crossing over busy East Washington Avenue for the Starkweather Creek bike path and was part of the $752 million upgrade of the street. But the bridge's position immediately to the west of the fast-food store means that motorists heading east can't see the McDonald's sign until they have passed the only turn that will give them access to it.
"We are definitely an impulse business and visibility is very important," Mangin said. McDonald's is now proposing to move the branch, one of the franchise's oldest in Madison, three blocks west to the East Madison Shopping Center against strong resistance from some in the neighborhood.
The city used eminent domain to build the bridge, encroaching on the restaurant's property and disturbing traffic patterns into and out of its parking lot in addition to limiting visibility of its sign to passing motorists, McDonald's alleged in the suit.
Palm defended the bridge, while acknowledging that the process offers lessons about how to prevent such problems in future developments.
He said the bridge gives residents in adjoining East Side neighborhoods walking and biking access to Madison Area Technical College without having to cross the busy and sometimes treacherous road.
"Any option we give people to be more safe is certainly worth something," he said.