Even with legal questions about the future of the downtown project, Madison is moving forward to refine designs for the Judge Doyle Square project.
Earlier this week, news broke that the developer of the project, Beitler Real Estate Services, is suing the city, claiming that the city “unilaterally seized” some private portions of the project when it approved additional funds to construct them.
But on Wednesday, the city took designs of the allegedly “seized” portion of the project to the Urban Design Commission to gather commission feedback on changing parts of the design.
Commissioners said that because the future of the project is in question, the city’s portion of the building should be designed in a way that could stand alone, if needed.
“The developer is now suing the city. So this developer may not be doing this project,” said Dick Wagner, chair of the UDC. “Rather than relate it to that potential, it needs to have integral nature of its own that can stand there.”
Judge Doyle Square, the two-block area in downtown Madison, encompasses the Madison Municipal Building on Block 88 and the Government East parking garage on Block 105. The major public-private plans for the site include a hotel, apartments, retail and commercial space, a bicycle center and parking on the two blocks.
Due to rising construction costs, resulting in an increase from $32 million to $48.5 million for the private component on Block 88, Beitler representatives said they could not afford to build the apartment project as planned.
The city then approved an additional $11 million to fund first-floor retail space, accessory parking and a structural slab, together called the “podium.” As originally planned, Beitler's nine-story tower of apartments would sit on top of the podium.
But according to Beitler’s lawsuit, “Beitler was not consulted or even informed of the city’s unilateral proposal to the Finance Committee to build the podium in violation of the development agreement. Beitler only learned of the proposal through the newspaper.”
Beitler is asking the federal court to stop Madison from moving forward with constructing this part of the project.
But the city is moving forward to redesign parts of the podium, hopefully cutting costs. Wednesday’s meeting was an informational presentation of possible podium designs, and was not yet seeking approval from the commission.
Natalie Erdman, director of the city Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development, noted that the interior layout and massing of the podium would not change, but rather the design, “due to cost issues and issues around this development.” The podium as originally designed would cost $12 million, but the City Council approved $9.92 for construction.
It’s in the best interest of the the city to “develop the podium, versus to stop at grade and figure out how to transition,” Erdman said.
On Wednesday, architects hired by the city presented three new options for the podium design, all changing the above-ground parking structure to an “open garage plan.” Original plans called for an enclosed garage with a glass facade. The new plans would use a glass facade on just one wall of the garage.
The UDC was only asked to comment on the podium portion of the design, and not the previously approved tower above it, a task some members found difficult.
“They have to compliment each other. We can't approve the bottom of a building and not approve the top because they have to work together. To an architect, that’s virtually impossible,” commissioner Rafeeq Asad said.
The commission didn’t like any of the three options presented, which featured a limestone facade and window openings that commissioner Cliff Goodhart said made the design seem like it was "trying to make it look like a building that would have occupants." Asad likened the look of the podium to a prison.
Commission members suggested that if a glass facade was no longer feasible, the architect should consider a different screening material. Generally, they wanted to see a more contemporary design that could stand on its own if needed.
“If nothing is going to be built on top of it for a while, we need to see how it stands alone and in relation to the (Madison Municipal Building),” Wagner said.
Erdman acknowledged “the podium may be there on its own for some period of time before something goes on top of it.”
Abigail Becker contributed to this report.