Tuesday, October 07, 2008
How big is a bubble? Big enough to crash and leave a huge hole in Madison.
You might call this the scar left on the face of Madison by the real estate bubble and the credit crisis it spawned. This is the big excavation made by developer Joseph Freed & Associates last fall, running all the way from their Hilldale Shopping Center on the east to Segoe Road on the west. At the corner of Segoe and University they were going to build a huge new Whole Foods store, but Whole Foods just backed out. Originally, the store was to be accompanied by two new condo buildings. One of them was dropped, replaced by plans for a conference hotel, and then the second condo also was dropped. Freed officials say they still hope to build next spring, but even that seems uncertain. Meanwhile, we can amuse ourselves by coming up with names for the muddy little body of water at the bottom of the Big Dig. Lake Freed? Freed's Folly? Lake Need?
The Weston Place luxury condo now towers in lonely splendor over a vacant lot. When it was built on Segoe Road several years ago, it tested the question of how far away from downtown you could successfully build and market a luxury condo. (Not nearly this far, apparently, since quite a few units are still unsold.) The nearby and recently upgraded and upscaled Hilldale Mall was supposed to be a major draw. How could you lose when the shopping center featured "America's first Sundance Cinema"? And there was a big new super-duper Whole Foods store headed for this very spot. Now it's a wasteland, although Mother Nature is always resourceful, and it seems to be greening up nicely, at least at the edges.
Looks like this will be the view for lower level residents of Weston Place for some time now that the Whole Foods project has been canceled. Having Whole Foods as a neighbor might have helped boost sluggish Weston Place sales a bit, but now the site is just an eyesore.You can (literally) overlook it from the upper floors, but down here at ground level it's right in your face.
It's a sad tale of hubris and "irrational exuberance," but at least there is one sure winner.