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Hotel Indigo pays homage to the past as the Madison area hotel market continues to grow

Paintbrushes, buckets and rollers have returned to the 900 block of East Washington Avenue.

For nearly 60 years, Mautz Paint Co. called the property across from Breese Stevens Field home.

But Hotel Indigo, the latest addition to the rapidly developing area, is paying homage to the paint company and Madison’s past. The hallways of the five-story hotel, its common spaces and 144 guest rooms — 96 of which are in the former Mautz warehouse — are filled with historic reminders. There are framed photographs of paint rollers, displays of old paintbrushes, photos of the city’s biking culture and, in the main lobby, a quote about colors and shapes from Sun Prairie native Georgia O’Keeffe.

Hotel Indigo

The main lobby at Hotel Indigo includes Chinese solitaire and a "Guess What" game, plus a quote from Georgia O'Keeffe about shapes and colors.

Murals on each of the hotel’s floors showcase Madison-area notables like Thornton Wilder, the Madison-born playwright and novelist; architect Frank Lloyd Wright; UW-Madison chef Carson Gulley; and Bernhard Mautz, who founded the paint company on State Street in 1892 but moved the business to East Washington Avenue in 1942.

“We wanted to make sure we had art that spoke not only to the historic nature of the building but also the history of Madison,” said Adam Schomaker, vice president of sales and marketing for Great Lakes Management Group, which operates the hotel.

Hotel Indigo

A portrait of artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who was born in Sun Prairie in 1887 and briefly lived in Madison, adorns the wall on the fifth floor at Hotel Indigo. The hotel pays homage to the Madison area's history with murals, artifacts from Mautz Paint and other artwork.

But the boutique hotel, which opened April 11, is also helping to further grow the Madison area’s rapidly expanding hotel industry. For the first time, the market, which includes the city’s suburbs, boasts more than 10,000 rooms, and more are on the horizon.

In 2007, the Madison area had about 8,000 rooms, but in a few years that number could easily be well above 11,000, said Charlie Eggen, president of the Greater Madison Hotel & Lodging Association. The newest additions include properties in a variety of price ranges, styles and locations, while others are planned for the Downtown, the Far East Side, near UW-Madison and potentially at the Alliant Energy Center.

Hotel occupancy was basically flat in 2018, growing just 0.2% from 2017, while 356 rooms were added to the Madison area’s hotel inventory. Overall revenue per available room increased by 1.4%, Eggen said.

Hotel Indigo

About one-third of the hotel's 144 rooms look out over Breese Stevens Field, across East Washington Avenue.

“The key question is: Will visitor demand grow enough to continue to support hotel occupancy? Hotel investors are betting the answer is yes,” said Eggen, general manager of S&L Hospitality, Verona Hotel Group, Holiday Inn Express and Fairfield Inn & Suites in Verona.

“Hotels are massive investments that require continual improvements and professional management oversight. Hotels need to maintain occupancy and revenue to continue to reinvest and deliver the experience visitors expect.”

Challenges for the hotels include finding employees, the seasonal local economy and other lodging alternatives like Airbnb.

Diverse business

Hotels are a critical piece to Dane County’s economic puzzle. Spending figures for 2018 will be released in a few weeks by the state Department of Tourism, but in 2017 direct tourism spending here increased by 2.7% to $1.2 billion, second only behind the $2 billion spent in Milwaukee and just ahead of the $1.16 billion spent at the waterparks, golf resorts, spas and other attractions in the Wisconsin Dells area.

Major events that draw thousands of visitors to Dane County and fill up hotel rooms include the Midwest Horse Fair, World Dairy Expo, Ironman, UW-Madison commencement and Badgers football games, high school state tournaments and user group meetings at Epic Systems Corp. in Verona. The CrossFit Games debuted in 2017 and will be here through at least 2021.

Hotel Indigo

The former Kleuter & Sons building, constructed in 1916 at the corner of East Washington Avenue and South Paterson Street, has been transformed into Hotel Indigo. An addition, at left, includes more guest rooms and a restaurant.

“We have a very strong, ongoing business base and we have a really good mix,” said Deb Archer, president and CEO of Destination Madison. “We’re not relying on one type of client; we have a market that a lot of markets would envy.”

The challenge for Archer’s organization is creating and attracting other events to fill in around major events, which would help hoteliers maintain more consistent occupancy. She also would like to see more meeting space incorporated into hotel properties since there is a continuing demand.

SpringHill Suites

The new 182-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott Madison, adjacent to Hilldale Shopping Center, includes a spacious bar, heated parking and a pool. Hotel room inventory in the Madison area now surpasses 10,000 rooms.

At the 11-story SpringHill Suites by Marriott Madison, which opened about two weeks ago adjacent to Hilldale Shopping Center, the 182-room hotel has 2,000 square feet of meeting space, a heated parking garage, bar, pool and fitness center. The entire fourth floor is set aside for the corporate headquarters of the The Raymond Group, currently in Greenway Station in Middleton and which manages the hotel and 35 other hotel properties in 12 states. Non-peak rates at Springhill range from $169 to $189 a night, and the property’s proximity to restaurants, a movie theater, Apple store and a Target at Hilldale is an added plus for the hotel’s guests.

SpringHill Suites

The SpringHill Suites by Marriott Madison across the street from the Target at Hilldale Shopping Center is one of the latest new hotel properties to open in the Madison area.

“We have a good mix. It’s very diverse,” Jim Sele, the hotel’s general manager said of the clientele. The location “is perfect for us because we have so much to offer our guests. It’s also without the hustle and bustle of Downtown.”

Multi-phase development

Hotel Indigo has only about 1,000 square feet of meeting space, while the Palette Bar & Grill inside the hotel, which serve breakfast and dinner and offer room service, is scheduled to open April 29. The neighborhood also includes trendy restaurants, brewpubs and distilleries, a full-service grocery store and the Sylvee, the city’s newest music venue. Williamson Street is just two blocks away, and East Johnson Street a five-minute walk.

The hotel is owned by a joint venture group, Kleuter Master Tenant LLC, and is managed by Great Lakes under a license agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group, which has 113 Hotel Indigos worldwide. The company plans to double that number for the brand, launched in 2004, with each reflecting the neighborhood in which they’re built.

Hotel Indigo

A small collection of vinyl and a record player are available for guests to use in a sitting area at Hotel Indigo. The hotel is also surrounded by trendy restaurants, brewpubs and distilleries.

The Madison property is also the first phase of a multi-phase development led by Curt Brink. The developer bought most of the block with major investors Jim and Marlene Korb for $3.3 million in 2002 and three years later proposed a $250 million, 27-story mixed-use building for the site, but the plan never materialized.

Now with the hotel completed, Brink is ready to move forward with more development on the block. He has proposed a 257,000-square-foot, 11-story office tower for the block, while other phases could add a parking garage, apartments and commercial space.

Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is seen in the upper left of this rendering of the 900 block of East Washington Avenue. Other proposed projects include an 11-story office tower, apartments, a parking garage and commercial space.

“This was the right time to do it,” Brink said of the hotel complementing other nearby office towers and attractions. “You had to find the right thing to go into here. The hotel sets the tone for everything else on the block.”

The hotel is a mix of new construction and a re-purposed building completed in 1916 for Kleuter & Sons, a grocery wholesaler. The business was taken over in 1929 by Simon Brothers Wholesale Grocery Co., which used the building into the late 1960s until Mautz bought it in 1978.

Converting the building to a hotel while maintaining its historic character was challenging. The rooms in the building have 30 different floor plans as architects had to work around concrete columns and scores of windows, which required specialized glass to reduce the noise from passing traffic.

Hotel Indigo

Paintbrushes line a hallway at Hotel Indigo, on the site of the former Mautz Paint Co.

The project received a $1.5 million Property Assessed Clean Energy loan to help meet energy-efficiency goals while maintaining the historic look of the building, plus $5.1 million in historic tax credits.

“We looked at it as a long-term project. So it worked out OK,” said Brink, who in 2004 redeveloped a former pawn shop in the 700 block of East Washington Avenue into a two story restaurant, bar and entertainment venue.

Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo is only the beginning for the 900 block of East Washington Avenue for developer Curt Brink. He also has plans for an 11-story office tower, apartments, commercial space and a parking garage for the block. 

Paying ‘homage’

Typical room rates at Hotel Indigo rage from $189 to $269 a night but will surge to more than $350 a night for a Badgers football weekend.

Eight of the rooms in the hotel have views of the state Capitol while 46 rooms look out over Breese Stevens Field, home to the Forward Madison FC professional soccer club; concerts, which this year include Greta Van Fleet, Toby Keith and Hall & Oates; plus a market that will be held four times throughout the summer.

Hotel Indigo

About a third of the rooms at Hotel Indigo look across East Washington Avenue and into Breese Stevens Field, home to soccer, concerts and other events.

The new building features reclaimed barn wood ceilings and tables, while just off the lobby a seating area has a record player and a small collection of vinyl. A shuttle service provides free transportation to the airport and within a 3-mile radius, and a bike rental program is being planned.

“One of the aspects of the hotel is, what can (our guests) hear, what can they see and what can they taste?” Schomaker said.

“The design of the hotel really not only pays homage to the neighborhood and what the East Washington corridor was (but) where Madison is today. It’s a city that has really held onto the past but is moving forward.”


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