After stalling the massive Judge Doyle Square project in downtown Madison by voting against approval of final design plans on June 28, the city's Urban Design Commission will take up the vote again at its July 12 meeting at the request of a commission member.
UDC members voted 4-2 to deny approval of plans for the $170 million redevelopment of two downtown blocks that includes replacing the aging Government East parking garage, adding apartment units and a hotel in addition to retail space and a bicycle center.
Without UDC’s approval, the project is essentially stalled. However, Ald. Amanda Hall, District 3, criticized Mayor Paul Soglin in asking for UDC to reconsider the motion on July 12. She voted against approval on June 28.
"In the absence of mayoral leadership in the last week leading to this project stalling out, I am calling our developer partners back to the table to hammer out these details and move forward with a positive project for Madison," Hall said.
Mayor Paul Soglin said Friday he has talked with Paul Beitler, president of Beitler Real Estate Services, and has been working to resolve the issue. He said he has had limited communication with design commissioners to avoid violating open meetings laws.
"In my conversations with Paul Beitler, I know that he is committed to the project," Soglin said.
Hall said the commission faced resistance from Beitler Real Estate Services, the Chicago-based developers of the project, after requesting changes on the project's overall pedestrian experience, location of an elevator, types of trees used and details of the green roofs. She described the developers’ response to those requests at the June 28 meeting as “combative.”
“It would be so silly and almost heartbreaking for a project of this magnitude to be derailed by some details,” Hall said. “But if it is, then the responsibility of that lies with the developer and city leadership and not with these volunteer commissioners who just have been trying to do what they have been charged with, which is uphold the standards of Madison.”
Judge Doyle Square project manager George Austin said commission members were not satisfied with the Beitler presentation and expected more details, particularly in regard to designs for the green roofs.
“The presentation wasn’t sufficient for the commission to feel comfortable granting final approval,” Austin said. “I completely understand that and feel their actions reflected the situation at that time.”
Beitler Real Estate representatives could not be reached for comment.
UDC’s decision marks the first hiccup in an otherwise smooth approval process, Austin said. The city of Madison’s review system is thorough and not all developers are accustomed to the city’s level of scrutiny.
“(Beitler Real Estate Services are) a very successful real estate firm,” Austin said. “They have strong opinions about their development plans and their capabilities and are not used to the type of review the city of Madison does for its development plans.”
Despite the denial, Austin said the project's timeline has not been adversely affected.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said he was shocked at UDC’s decision denying final approval. Timing is critical at this stage of the project to obtain $24 million in tax incremental financing by Sept. 19.
“The lack of final approval is holding up Beitler’s ability to have their financing in order and is cutting it close for us to take advantage of the tax incremental financing, which we need to expend by September or we lose the ability to use the funds to replace the Government East garage,” Verveer said.
However, Verveer said he is optimistic the design commission will vote favorably at its next meeting.
“We’re so close to breaking ground,” Verveer said. “We’re so close we can taste it.”