Percy Brown and the Redevelopment of
|Percy Brown whetted his appetite for community
development as a member of the South Madison
south side that the remaining families that were in good standing and were not busted on drugs — we had about 35 solid families left in
the whole of Monona Shores. So we had enough space on the south side where we were able to move everyone over to that side. We
had to have the total north side free for renovation or demolition.
“We told these families, ‘If you continue to remain in good standing and don’t get busted on drugs, we will guarantee you that even
though these are going to be newly upgraded units, we will give them to you at your current rate.’ We guaranteed them that no one would
be displaced. And we also gave them the opportunity to purchase and own occupied units. Dana Warren was working for me through the
AFFORDS Program. So we had some training sessions out there with the lenders and we met with these interested families and took
them through some pre-screening and education on how to buy a home so that they would possibly be prepared to aim for one of those
condos. There was a lot of public sentiment about displacement. A lot of the housing advocates were coming out saying that the city
was going to displace these poor, low-income people and they are going to be thrown out of the neighborhood, that the neighborhood
was going to be gentrified and that we were going to attract all of these well-to-do people. So we had to counter that and make sure that
would not happen.”
The city had become the developer of last resort on the Monona Shores complex because the private sector wouldn’t touch it. The odds
of failure were too high that the development would be a bust and investors would lose their money. Redevelopment had to happen, so
the city decided to take on the project themselves.
It took about 18 months for the city to complete the renovations even though they had a lot to work with in the existing structures.
Demolition was used to create green spaces only.
“Early on, we were able to get off on an unbelievable positive start,” Brown recalled. “It seems like after that, it just seems those
condos went really fast. And that began to instill the confidence. Once people saw buyers coming back to put down their roots in the
neighborhood, it alleviated a lot of fears and some were from those 35 families. Many of those 35 families had been living in Monona
Shores for 12-15 years. They weren’t going anywhere. They said to the drug dealers, ‘Look, we’re going to reclaim our neighborhood and
you aren’t going to make us leave a neighborhood that we really care about.’ Those people were able to give testimony too. They
basically told the story that ‘We love the neighborhood, we live in the neighborhood and we are here to stay.’ We were able to show the
whole Madison community that we have residents who are willing to stay and we have new people who are willing to come in. When
they saw the photos — we did a rendering of how it would look once we finished with the landscaping and hardwood floors — it created
a lot of excitement. It began to attract a diversity of people back into the neighborhood.”
The city’s work still wasn’t completed. While it was done with one end of the neighborhood when they knocked down the buildings on
the south side of the street and built commercial properties, they still had the other bookend to the neighborhood to deal with, what was
commonly referred to as The Hole. The city had some vacant land on its hands because it had condemned and tore down the drug
houses on that end of the street.
“We reassembled that land and cleared those properties and we were able to put in another owner-occupied piece, the Lake Point
Condominiums,” Brown said. “We saved three of the eight-unit buildings for a total of 24 units that we converted into owner-occupied.
But we built the 36 new condos. The new ones cost just a little bit more. But the converted condos were only like $50,000. So we
wanted to really make sure that we could do some great and affordable owner-occupied housing. In fact, they were cheaper than the
lake front condos. This allowed those residents who couldn’t afford a lake front condo to purchase one. Phase three gave more
affordable owner-occupied opportunities. It was also a game changer on that other end because the other end needed something to
happen down there.”
The city also placed the Broadway-Lake Point-Waunona Neighborhood Center at the end of the street so that residents could have a
place to gather, hold events and receive services. With the investment by the city on both ends of the neighborhood, the climate for
private investment improved.
“Once people saw Monona Shores, all of a sudden the adjacent property owners said, ‘We better step it up,’” Brown said. “All of a
sudden, you would see them refurbishing their properties. After the city of Monona saw what we did, they started developing in that area
that complemented the neighborhood. There is a place for government when no one else will do it. Government had to step in. But
government, at the end of the day, was able to spur other interest and got other people going. I think that is what contributed to the
overall success of the neighborhood.”
The rehabilitation of Monona Shores and the Simpson Street-Broadway area also rehabilitated the reputation of the city of Madison
planning department from its tarnished past with the Greenbush days. And the rehabilitation occurred because Brown, George Austin
and others were committed to renewing and not removing the neighborhood.
“You really have to empower the people,” Brown said. “It has to be an empowered-driven process where the people who live in the
neighborhood are really the owners of the neighborhood. So you have to begin on the premise that it is their neighborhood. They shape
the vision and you just help them get there. That’s the important piece. The reason that is important is even after the city has dome its
thing and has moved on, if you don’t leave in place an infrastructure with those neighborhood people who own the neighborhood and
have active neighborhood groups, you are going to leave a neighborhood that has a lot of nice looking buildings, but it won’t have
While the city government was the catalyst for redevelopment and took 100 percent of the initial risk, it also needed the private sector to
make investments. The city was not interested in owning the entire neighborhood.
“Government can’t do it all by itself,” Brown said. “We did have to go it alone initially to do Monona Shores. But after we did Monona
Shores, the private sector began to take a second look at it. So for those other phases like Cranberry Creek and the Lake Point
Condominiums, we were able to get private participation. We were able to leverage private money. Always do what you can to take
advantage of private resources where you bring public and private resources together.”
Brown attributes the success of the neighborhood revitalization was due to the city focusing on building and human diversity.
“Monona Shores became the winner of a national meritorious achievement award,” Brown said. “And I think the reason for that is we
did not only an attractive premier type of development that was very, very upscale, but I think it had the owner-occupied piece. I really
think that was a winning combination to have. What we basically created was a mixed-income type of community where we brought
back in residential diversity and created a diverse population.”
And the most important reason why the revitalization succeeded, according to Brown, is that the city looked at the neighborhood as a
whole and understood its interconnectedness.
“You can’t take a piecemeal approach,” Brown emphasized. “If we would have been short-sighted and taken a piecemeal approach, I
guarantee you we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. You can’t approach neighborhood revitalization from just a pragmatic,
piecemeal approach. You have to come in from a comprehensive overall strategy for the whole neighborhood. And what you have to
realize is that the one piece that you do can possibly be a catalyst to spur development elsewhere.”
The city of Madison still owns Monona Shores. And when its tax credits expire, it might still hang onto the property. They won’t give it up
to just anyone and watch as their two decade investment of resources go to waste as resident backgrounds and building maintenance
once more become neglected. The city will want to continue the good things that are happening in the neighborhood.
And Brown can take pride in what he has accomplished as he leaves the city of Madison after decades of service. As a young man in
Mississippi, Brown witnessed the negative impact that government policy can have on a neighborhood. With the Broadway-Lake Point
area, Brown was able to make sure that it didn’t happen there. It was the fulfillment of a lifetime of service.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
Growing up in Rosedale, Mississippi during the 1960s, Percy Brown Sr.,
who recently retired from the city of Madison’s Community Development
Authority, saw what government action — ort inaction — could do to a
community. Brown lived on “the wrong side of the tracks” in a segregated
community. His side of the tracks didn’t have paved roads, running water
or other amenities that municipalities provide. The other side of the tracks
did have them.
Brown came to Madison, obtained his urban planning degree and
eventually worked on the Monona Shores redevelopment for the city of
Madison’s Community Development Authority. The city had purchased
Monona Shores for $1.95 million and was committed to keeping the
families in good standing in the neighborhood, that it would be urban
renewal and not urban removal.
“Probably a quarter of the buildings were located on the south side of
Simpson Street [Now called Lake Point Drive], but most of them were
located on the north side of the street,” Brown said. “But the beauty of that
is because we had high vacancy already, we had enough buildings on the