A private residence hall on Langdon Street that has sat empty for 10 years may finally be on its way to rubble.
The seven-story building once known as The Langdon at 126 Langdon St. is up for a demolition permit at the city’s Plan Commission meeting Monday night.
City staff has recommended approval of the demolition, even though there are no plans for redevelopment of the property. Instead, the property, owned by Steve Brown Apartments, will be turned into a green space until a new development plan is proposed and approved.
In order to demolish a building without plans for a replacement, there must be a potential fire hazard or public nuisance, unlawful use of the property or public health and safety concerns.
George Hank, director of the city's Building Inspection Division, and Jason Freedman, Central District Police captain, wrote letters attesting that the Langdon Street building is “a hazard to public safety and a nuisance.” They cited break-ins, vandalism, trespassing and broken glass on the property.
The 192-room building was built in 1963 as a private men’s dormitory. It stayed a private residence hall throughout its life. Steve Brown Apartments owned the building from 1991 to 2004, and then bought it back in 2008. In 2008, the building was vacated because of a lack of student demand, and has been empty ever since.
In 2015, an Austin, Texas-based developer, Aspen Heights Partners, suggested demolishing the existing building and replacing it with a similar structure: a seven-story student apartment building.
At the time, Ald. Ledell Zellers was quoted in a Wisconsin State Journal article as saying there were concerns about the density and parking in the proposal. But there was no argument about a need to redevelop the property, she said.
“Nobody’s going to cry over losing this particular building,” she said. “It’s not as if affordable housing is being demolished.”
That plan never materialized. According to a city staff report, the Downtown Plan recommends a maximum height of five stories on the front of the property, with a possibility of seven stories in the back.
Zellers said she was aware of two other proposals for the property since 2008, one that would demolish the building and one that would update the existing structure. Both plans fells through. She said that she generally favors reusing buildings, but "based upon the entities I've talked to, that seems really unlikely ... so somewhat reluctantly, I am agreeing that this probably is the best course of action."
A report filed last December said that converting the building to multi-family housing "would be difficult," listing complicating factors like shallow floor-to-floor heights, communal bathrooms and the lack of insulation in the exterior walls.
Colin Punt, author of the city planning report, said he couldn’t speak to why the building has been vacant for so long, but didn’t think the property would remain a green space forever.
“It’s a pretty valuable and desirable site, so I’m sure that they won’t sit on it for too long before they come back with something,” he said.
If approved, demolition is slated to begin May 14 and end Sept. 1, to deliberately avoid students.
Zellers said her priority is to make sure surrounding buildings are not damaged during the demolition, and was encouraged that Steve Brown seems committed to using best demolition practices.