We are watching Madison mature as a city right in front of our eyes. In our case, it’s taken a while—a hundred years or so. What can we say? We’re late bloomers. But we can see it happening. It is, in part, growth. Madison is unlikely to ever be a big city; you see, there’s that whole isthmus thing we’ve got going. But density is no longer a dirty word, and we’re filling out at the edges. And a quarter of a million in population is no small potatoes. But maturity also encompasses our ability to embrace change, take risks and write our own story. In 2017, Madison’s business community and its leaders are doing just that.
What we’re seeing is not just the old transforming into the new, but rather, the two being fused together. And thus, this year’s Best of Madison Business honorees are emblematic of that transformation. Development and construction, retail and recreation, brewing and food-related businesses are all part of Madison’s bedrock. And to our great fortune, players in those fields have deep roots in our region—but are also contributing to its future. It’s not a stretch to suggest that a walk of a mile or so down East Washington Avenue would unveil at least a hint of the influence of the six people we are recognizing this year.
Otto Gebhardt III’s influence is more than a hint. It’s a gigantic skyscape-defining, ever-growing footprint that is, among other things, home for so many of the millennial entrepreneurs, makers, chefs and artists who are creating the Madison of the 21st century. Gebhardt is part of a legacy; his father ran Gebhardt Realty. In 1991 Otto started his own company, Gebhardt Development. So, real estate and development is in his blood. His holdings are spread throughout the city and county, but it’s his work along East Washington Avenue that signifies Madison is a city that’s come of age. He might not have been the first to see the potential in the newly conceived Capitol East District, but when the concept needed someone to step up and invest, Gebhardt was all in. Gebhardt’s investment was crucial and the necessary catalyst to kick-start the East Washington Avenue renaissance. His Constellation and Galaxie developments are the pillars on which the Capitol East District is being built, as well as the Cosmos project, a mixed-use development that will include an entertainment venue and will house the entrepreneurial hub StartingBlock when it’s completed (slated for later this year).