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By Deb Gilpin
“They unpaved the parking lot and put up a play paradise”
That headline is a (very liberal) paraphrase of a Joni Mitchell song. It seems apt as we begin transforming our parking lot into something more green and playful.
We’ve heard some concern and gotten some questions about why we’re closing the parking lot this November 10. First, let me say: I get it. For four years, we’ve been the only museum downtown with its own parking lot. Our visitors have enjoyed the convenience of parking on site. For our disabled and generally less mobile visitors, this parking has been particularly valuable. And the lot has provided a good, steady source of income for the museum. So we don’t take this decision lightly.
Why are we closing the lot? The quick answer: the opportunity to create a great outdoor play space outweighs the prohibitive cost of maintaining the lot.
When we began surveying our current building as a possible location for the new museum a decade ago, we were told the lot had about 10 years to go before it would need major attention. We’ve gotten out ahead of that by working with professional engineers to assess the lot. Sure enough, that original estimate was right on: the consensus is that we would need to sink a lot of money into the structure in the next year or two to keep it operational. Eventually, we’d need to level it and rebuild it.
With that in mind, we began to talk to our friends who build and run some of Madison’s parking lots. And the math just doesn’t add up. Investing in the lot would be a major financial burden for the museum – and the return on investment would be unpromising.
But we see limitless possibilities for what we are now calling the back lot. If you visited the Funkyard this summer or fall, you’ve gotten a taste of that. Built on a small budget, almost entirely from upcycled materials like pallets and cable spools, the Funkyard has been a huge hit from day one. Outdoor play is becoming alarmingly rare for kids. We want to provide more space for kids to have the kind of fun they’ve had in the Funkyard: riding on the scooter obstacle course, goofing on the stage, jumping rope, and more.
We’ll be working with community members to plot the best use of this valuable downtown real estate. Will it become a park? An ice skating rink? Urban growing space? I welcome your ideas! In the meantime, we’ll continue to evolve our Funkyard, providing a place to play in the fresh air. We think it’s important that kids have at least one downtown, outdoor play space just for them – where they can come together from all communities and play side by side.
As for parking, here are some tips:
In addition, we’re right on the bus line. And we have plenty of bike parking. Or… you could call for a Big Yellow Taxi…