Someday the old Garver Feed Mill will be more than a sprawling, beautiful ruin that glows warmly in the late afternoon sun north of Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Arts advocates and city planners are pushing for it to become an arts incubator, but that's not likely to happen anytime soon, given today's budget woes and precarious economic situation. The building's future is also tied to expansion plans for Olbrich Gardens, as well as the city's plans for the nearby Olbrich Park softball fields. It's a tangled situation, in which competing interests collide and the Garver Feed Mill has basically become a bargaining chip.
The City Planning Commission addressed these issues earlier this month, and will revisit them in future meetings. Kristin Czubkowski reported on the meeting in the online Capital Times under the headline "Decision on Olbrich Park master plan won't be rushed."
Those speaking in favor of expanding Olbrich Botanical Gardens, however, said the northern expansion was considered less than ideal because of railroad tracks that would separate the two halves of the gardens compared to a bridge east across Starkweather Creek that has already been built because of the Thai Pavilion addition to the gardens. Former Olbrich Botanical Society president Dennis Birke also said that members had disagreed over whether lands to the north should be used for formal gardens or natural landscaping and whether lands to the east were a better alternative for formal gardens.There's one group that's probably in no hurry to see the issue resolved -- the city's photographers. It's hard to find a good, accessible ruin these days, and the old structure with its air of abandonment makes a great photo subject.
Members of the Olbrich Botanical Society also reminded commissioners that the society raised about $1 million in the 1990s to purchase the Garver Feed Mill property for the city of Madison in exchange for a promise to allow significant garden expansion. There is currently still a deed restriction on the building for its use for the gardens, said society Secretary Janet Loewi, and the society might hesitate to remove it unless it is guaranteed other land on which to expand. The city is currently planning for the Garver Feed Mill property to be turned into an arts incubator, which would require lifting of the deed restriction.