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Rendering for Browzers Expansion

A proposed addition to Browzer Bookshop at 668 State St.

After a proposed hotel stirred up debate over whether a modern or historic look is best for State Street buildings, a proposed addition to another State Street business will try to combine the two by keeping an older facade and adding on four floors of contemporary apartments.

The proposal, slated for 668 State Street, appeared before the city’s Urban Design Commission meeting on Wednesday. But the UDC said the design’s attempt to transition from old to new isn't quite working yet.

A UW Credit Union branch is located on the first floor, and Browzer Bookshop is on the second floor. The two-story building was remodeled in 2005 and 2006, but the traditional facade of the building was largely maintained.

The project would add four stories in a more contemporary style with metal panels, with setbacks at the third and fifth floors. There would be a full six-story addition behind the existing building. The addition would create 26 apartment units.

The developers for the project are Harold Langhammer and Scott Faust, the developer of City View and Park Place Luxury Apartments, both high-end apartments aimed at UW-Madison students.

Commission members said the design should make the addition feel like a “planned vertical expansion,” and suggested changing materials or reducing or eliminating setbacks to create a more congruent flow of the building.

“That storefront should be integrated into the total composition,” said Dawn O’Kroley, a registered architect on the commission.

Commission chair Dick Wagner questioned why the developer was trying to keep the facade at all, advocating a more congruent, completely contemporary design.

“Why are you trying to save the exterior wall? It’s not really historic, is it?” Wagner said.

The reason turned out to be more practical than preservational in nature.

“We have tenants in there that are going to stay during construction,” said Randy Bruce, architect for the project. “I thought we would get more push back from other people about that facade."

The debate over preserving facades versus creating contemporary designs recently surfaced at a public meeting for the new State Street hotel slated for 118 and 122 State Street.

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The hotel is aiming for a more modern look after it found it was unable to restore the traditional facade of the existing building. Although some critics questioned the move, Eric Nordeen, co-founder and principal owner of Ascendant Holdings, the developer of the project, said this was the city’s clear preference.

“The risk of creating something new to look old is hard to execute and can come off as contrived,” he said at neighborhood meeting for the project in March.

This is not the first time an addition to the Browzer building has been proposed. The project appeared before the UDC in 2005, the application said. That plan called for a remodel of the two-story building and an addition of four stories. The remodel was completed, Bruce said, but the addition never took place.

A similar project for the property appeared before the UDC in 2009. It too, proposed a four-story addition to the existing building. Langhammer was the developer of the project, and his design created 20 apartment units in the addition. The UDC said that design was not inspiring, and a “throwback to the 80s.” 

Bruce said the current plan was essentially another iteration of the previous designs, with a different exterior. 

Also on Wednesday, two large apartment complexes, one on the far east and one on the far west side of Madison, were presented at the UDC.

A complex at 9910 Watts Road, would be made of two three-story buildings, housing 105 units. It’s the second major project to be approved by the UDC in the 1,000 Oaks subdivision plat. Another complex at 3601 Cross Hill Drive would create 189 apartment units, received generally positive feedback, but the UDC took no action on the item.

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