By the time the Monroe Street reconstruction ends this November, what was once an under-utilized triangle of land near Camp Randall will be a green mini-oasis for the neighborhood.
The city is taking advantage of the street reconstruction to redesign the parcel, along with the entrance to Wingra Park. Neighbors said they wanted a quiet space next to the busy Monroe and Regent Street intersection, and the revamped area will act as a gateway to the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Rather than a couple of leftover triangles that had some grass, it’s going to feel like a real place when you enter into the neighborhood,” said Rebecca Cnare, urban design planner for the city of Madison.
The space is bordered by Regent and Monroe Streets and North Breese Terrace and bisected by one of the city's shortest streets, Crazylegs Lane.
Before construction, not much happened there, other than cyclists zipping past on the Southwest Commuter Path, which runs through it, and vendors setting up shop on football home game days.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity, because there isn’t a lot of usage, frankly,” Ald. Sara Eskrich told the Wisconsin State Journal in August. “We’re hoping to make it much more of a place where people choose to gather, and there’s an opportunity to bring the community together.”
That’s long been a neighborhood goal, as the 2007 Monroe Street Commercial District Plan proposed using the area as a “pedestrian gathering space.”
The project will remove Crazylegs Lane from the triangle, freeing up about 25,000 total square feet for greenery, benches, a rain garden, chairs and tables, public art and a water fountain.
The city, with the help of Madison planning firm Urban Assets, used public meetings to gather neighborhood input for the project, but because “we don’t always get kind of breadth and depth of response with just a one-hit public meetings,” also hosted workshops, and engaged with neighborhood groups, Cnare said.
Cnare said that before the public engagement process, she had envisioned an urban plaza with pavement and activities for the public. But the surrounding pedestrian, car and bicycle traffic makes the triangle an “area of movement,” she said, and neighbors didn’t want to “over-program it with other activities,” she said.
“I’m always surprised and happy when I’m wrong,” she said, because it means the city engagement process is working.
The bike path will still run through the area, and pedestrians and bicyclists can stop for a drink of water or just to rest on a bench and take in the art for a few minutes, Cnare said.
“It’s going to feel like it’s more than just a pass through, it’s also a respite,” she said.
The area will include a stormwater management demonstration area, with a rain garden and educational plaque explaining the system. Because there will be bike and pedestrian traffic through the area, it’s a good opportunity to educate passersby on “how stormwater can be managed,” said Ben Zellers, a planner for the city.
Football gameday vendors will still be allowed on the space, Zellers said, and they'll benefit from some enhancements like electrical hookups.
The plaza will provide a gateway into the Dudgeon-Monroe, Vilas and Regent neighborhoods, Cnare said, and act as a “front door” to the nearby businesses like HotelRed.
“Our guests will love having a park there,” Jason Illstrup, then-general manager at HotelRED, said in August. “It’s two great spots that become even better when you get rid of the road.”
Local mosaic artist Marcia Yapp, who has created mosaics for the community garden in Marlboro Park and contributed to a project in the Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood, will create a mosaic with an abstract design on a wall facing Regent Street. A bronze Badger sculpture, designed by Harry Whitehorse, will live in the southern corner of the triangle.
Whitehorse, a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, passed away in 2017, and the city is working with this wife to move the project forward, as his design has yet to be cast in bronze, Cnare said.
The city has referred to the project as “Crazylegs Plaza," but the plaza doesn't yet have an official name, and the city is still "trying to figure it out," Cnare said. Crazylegs Lane, named in honor Hall of Fame running back and former UW athletic director Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, will be removed from the triangle. Former Madison radio host Peter Boam and sports reporter Steve True spearheaded the effort to rename the street after Hirsch. Hirsch died in 2004 and his memory is honored every year at the Crazylegs Classic charity walk and run.
The city doesn’t want to give the impression that the space is UW land, and the area is not technically a public park. But they’re working with the UW to create a plaque acknowledging Hirsch and his contributions to the community, Zellers said.
The plaza is scheduled to be completed by Aug. 30, although some of the landscaping will likely need to be completed later as it will be too hot to install some plants, said Jim Wolfe, an engineer for the city.