After more than 10 years of deliberations, contracts and even a lawsuit, the vision for one of downtown Madison’s most complicated blocks is taking shape — again. The City Council voted on Tuesday night to move forward with a $52 million proposal from Madison-based development firm Gebhardt Development to redevelop Block 88 of Judge Doyle Square.
“Whatever actions you take tonight ... the next step is negotiations,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway explained to the alders. “I would invite any of you who have particular points that you’d like to ask the team to negotiate around to share those with me and my office.”
Gebhardt’s proposal includes 78 income-restricted rental units for individuals whose household incomes are at or below 60% of Dane County's median income.
“We are confident that our project and team best meet the requirements set forth by the city,” said Gebhardt’s Lee Christensen, noting that the project would offer the most housing units, the most affordable units and the highest tax base.
Gebhardt will partner with Madison-based firms Iconica, which will manage the construction, and JP Cullen, which will provide much of the labor. George Cullen of JP Cullen said the company, which is currently building the parking structure that will be the base for the proposed project, is “a proud union contractor.”
Opposition to Gebhardt proposal
Ald. Donna Moreland, District 7, cast the lone vote against moving forward with the Gebhardt proposal. In discussion, she questioned why the partnership with JP Cullen had not been announced until last week, implying this was a strategy to respond to some alders’ stated interest in labor practices.
“I just want to correct the perception that I think some have that this was because it is a union thing, that I’m pushing unions,” Moreland said before the vote. “I’m pushing the ability of people to make a living wage, and that includes unions, and they’re very transparent about it, so that’s been my motivation.”
At Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, Moreland voted against selecting Gebhardt because the company had proposed creating separate lobbies for the affordable housing units and the market-rate units, a point which drew wide criticism from the committee.
Before the Council on Tuesday, Christensen said Gebhardt designed the building that way because separate lenders were financing the construction of the affordable and market-rate units. “The lender for the affordable portion of that project required that to be essentially 100% affordable,” Christensen said, noting that Gebhardt would work to find an alternative solution due to alders’ concerns about the plan.
“A lender doesn’t want to have collateral that is scattered around the building in the event of foreclosure,” explained Assistant City Attorney Kevin Ramakrishna. Integrating the two types of units within the same structure would likely require having separate LLC owners and separate property managers for the side-by-side units.
“These are a lot of things that have to be worked out,” Ramakrishna said. “None of that is to say it can’t be done ... You’re not reinventing the wheel.”
Counter to city staff recommendation
Madison’s Finance Committee on Monday gave its nod to Gebhardt, against the city staff’s recommendation in favor of the proposal by Madison-based Stone House Development, which included fewer total housing units and fewer affordable units.
Mandel Group’s Phillip Aiello told the Council that Mandel could make more of the apartments affordable, but at an additional cost. He explained that Mandel proposed a lower-density structure because the city included a preference for “straightforward” plans as one of its criteria. A higher-density structure would require modifying the parking structure base of the building.
Project manager George Austin acknowledged that complex plans had been “the Achilles heel” of the Judge Doyle Square redevelopment over the last decade. “Projects that have been pursued have not always been able to be completed as envisioned,” Austin said, “and so getting something that is easily executable and deliverable was important.”
George Cullen said that, because his company was building the base, he was confident it could make the necessary modifications.
Ald. Mike Verveer, whose District 4 includes the project, supported the Gebhardt proposal, though he said “it will be a very heavy lift” for the company. “It’s worth taking advantage of the boldest proposal,” he said.
“It really is about time that the city in a very meaningful way attempts to bring more affordable housing to downtown Madison,” Verveer said. “It’s been embarrassing to me personally that downtown Madison hasn’t been able to have affordable housing to any significant degree.”
Council also makes alcohol-license decisions
The City Council also voted to uphold all recommendations of the Alcohol License Review Committee, which recently completed its annual review of the city’s alcohol-selling establishments. The committee recommended renewing all but three of the licenses up for renewal. After June 30, Divine Orders Catering, Madison Bazaar and West Badger Liquor will lose their alcohol licenses. Their owners will be eligible to apply for new licenses.
The committee recommended renewing the alcohol license for Visions, Madison’s only strip club, though Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said she plans to issue a recommendation to revoke that license later this year.
“There wasn’t enough time to get the non-renewal complaint drafted and have a hearing before tonight,” Zilavy said, citing the “voluminous material” documenting concerns.
Visions owner Al Reichenberger said the club, which has been operating for more than 40 years, is “part of Madison history.” While his establishment has been accused of bringing crime to its east side neighborhood, he called shootings “a Madison problem” that he blamed on people coming to town from Chicago and Milwaukee. “They have this criminal element that’s running around now from 10 p.m. to roughly 6 a.m.,” Reichenberger said.
“There is just no factual basis to take action against this liquor license,” said Visions’ lawyer, Jeff Scott Olson, who presented graphs comparing the number of total calls and disturbance calls made to police about Visions and three other area businesses. Visions’ numbers, he said, were similar to those of two of the three, while Kwik Trip drew far more calls.
“That’s the Sears Tower of police calls,” Olson said.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that city staff recommended Stone House Development for the Judge Doyle Square project.