This past November marked my first full year as a board member of the Worthington Park Neighborhood Association. WPNA diminished to a frail group over the years, with low meeting turnout and the bare minimum of officers, but the small collective was determined to make progress. After incremental growth, things slowed a bit in the Spring due to board turnover, and residents were disheartened by Salvation Army’s curious decision to mow down the community garden. Then with the realization of McDonald’s leaving becoming more and more real, and its departure date drawing closer and closer, we started feeling our community’s value and security threatened, not to mention its economic future. What’s going to help the tax base? The title loan store? Roll your eyes along with me, it’s OK. But those tight to the group stayed the course and focused on Summer.

And what a Summer we had! Pee-wee soccer games and Mentoring Positives “Family Fun Time” in the park, a bicycle rodeo, the annual meeting and pasta dinner, and an incredibly successful Darbo picnic, due in no small part to the hard work and generosity of community organizations. From a few Madison businesses we received food and water for the picnic but the bulk of donations came from Salvation Army, including free school supplies that brought folks in from across the city. Most people I talk with have reservations about Salvation Army as an entity (ideology, stance on homosexuality, etc), and their reservations are understood, but when the picnic effort needed help, they came through. Sadly, that glimpse of partnership was dwarfed by their immense proposal for 3030 Darbo, which I learned of just one month ago. Coupled with what I learned of Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin’s proposal only one week after that, I’m preparing for an interesting year.

Salvation Army
Have you seen the construction of The Constellation on East Wash? It’s quite the project. According to their site, The Constellation will be “12-stories of upscale apartment living and business space in a five star location.” Never mind their logo looks like it fell out of 1950s Las Vegas, the building will have a contemporary expression. The point is that whole area is going to explode with redevelopment. Maybe that’s why Salvation Army is seazing the opportunity to offload 630 East Wash, which currently holds their 20-bed facility for homeless persons, and construct an even larger shelter on Darbo.

That’s right. From what I’ve been told, Salvation Army will sell 630 East Wash and move its shelter operations to 3030 Darbo, after building an extension, or extensions, and possibly repurposing the gymnasium. It would make financial sense, I get that. Capitalizing on a local real estate market upswing by selling a now hot property, that over the last decade has been a dog in the church’s portfolio, is a smart move—on paper. It’s another thing entirely when an organization considers enlarging its homeless services capacity and relocating those services within a weakened community.

Economic hardship is hitting many nowadays. Perhaps the impetus is financial troubles. Money worry can prompt people to make hasty decisions. These decisions can have awful consequences for the environment in which they’re executed. Though the beginnings of decay can be hard to detect, the long term effects of poor choices are all around us. Fiscally responsible does not necessarily equal socially acceptable. Can Darbo/Worthington handle the impact? And that’s just one proposal.

Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin
These folks have good history in Madison, particularly around where they currently are in the SASY neighborhood (Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara). People at Youth Services do important work. I support their efforts. However, there’s cause for pause before supporting their intention to relocate in Darbo, if just to help ensure all things are considered. Or is it too late?

Property developer EMI plans to buy the McDonald’s property at 3051 East Wash. According to Youth Services, EMI wishes to construct a new two-story building there, and Youth Services intends to occupy.  By lease or by sale, it’s uncertain, but occupy nonetheless. At this new location, Youth Services proposes a 28-day maximum stay teenage homeless shelter, among other services for youth and adult clients. Sure, these other services are the bulk of what Youth Services intends to do, but a teenage homeless shelter less than 500 feet from a large shelter for adults proposed by Salvation Army? Without the teenage shelter, a high concentration of at-risk youth and a high concentration of homeless persons in a blighted area? Maybe these and other questions are answered in a Community Impact Report for each proposal.

[Unfamiliar with Community Impact Reports? This is a good introduction.]

The Salvation Army and Youth Services proposals directly affect a low income area, a challenged section of the east side with its own Neighborhood Resource Team, but no Community Impact Reports have made there way to WPNA. Why do these proposals show so much progress when there has been so little resident or community stakeholder input? A concern is that the voice of the neighborhood might not really be heard on these matters, that considerable momentum could be sustained by the time public meetings are held. The Executive Director of Youth Services stated their organization has been working the deal for over a year. Where have we been?

Well, since August, I have been in western Pennsylvania though the last 4 weeks I spent in Madison talking with who I could to get information. See, coming off a successful picnic and witnessing renewed spirit in the neighborhood, I thought I could help stabilize a new association board from Pennsylvania then step down to a support role. Despite being out of town, people could always get in touch via phone, e-mail or Facebook. Regarding the proposals, no one did. I’m asking why, and I will ask in person because I’m moving back to Madison in January.

Worthington Park is important to me. I believe the community’s health and prosperity are important to many more, and I want folks coming forward to talk about its future.

Now’s the time. Get involved.

Wishing y’all a Forward New Year,
Alfonso Flores V
President, WPNA