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State Street hotel rendering

From the State Street side, facades of the proposed boutique hotel would vary from two to four stories, with a 30-foot stepback. 

Despite receiving a recommendation to deny it from city staff, Madison’s Plan Commission approved a zoning change Monday that would allow a proposal for a nine-story hotel on the 100 block of State Street to move forward.

Commissioners, alders and community members expressed concerns over parking, height of the building and inconsistency with the city’s previously adopted Downtown Plan. However, some were willing to put aside those concerns for the benefits the project could bring to the top of State Street, which many in the city considers a troubled area.

“We have to do better here,” Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said. “This is such a significant flatiron block that is so visible.”

Ascendant Holdings Real Estate, the developer, working in partnership with Central Properties of Madison, plans to build a nine-story boutique hotel on the 100 block of State Street. The proposed hotel site is bounded by State, North Carroll and West Dayton streets with frontages along the three streets.

The Plan Commission ultimately approved a zoning change from Downtown Core District to Planned Development District, which will allow the developer to construct a building that is 19 feet higher than what is allowed in the city’s downtown height map.

Commission member Bradley Cantrell said the Downtown Plan was written to allow some flexibility into evaluating additional height for buildings, particularly for projects that aim to increase the vitality of the downtown.

“I believe that for this site, which is very unique to the State Street corridor, that the standards for additional height and findings for additional height can be met,” Cantrell said. “This project, I believe, is a transformational project for this section of the downtown.”

Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, was the only dissenting vote.

“I still reluctantly am going to say that I still can’t quite get there on supporting this,” Zellers said, specifically opposing the nine-story portion of the building that will set up a backdrop for State Street and increase the mass along West Dayton and North Carroll streets.

From the State Street side, facades would vary from two to four stories, with a 30-foot stepback. On the West Dayton and North Carroll Streets sides, the hotel would reach nine stories.

City staff advised the Plan Commission against approving the project but asked that commission members articulate specific findings on why the plans should be approved.

“The Commission and Council should make clear findings why this project is exception in order to preserve the integrity of the Downtown Plan and its recommendations,” the report said.

The $43 million project calls for a 130-room hotel, which would include a first-floor restaurant, art collection and rooftop terrace and bar. The property stretches from 118 to 126 State St., and the design utilizes the older architecture of the two buildings book-ending the State Street frontage.

Project plans do not include on-site parking. The developer plans to lease approximately 80 parking spaces nearby and will offer those to guests through a valet service. Bicycle valet service would also be available.

Commission members also voted in favor of demolishing all or parts of four commercial buildings. Plans call for demolishing most of the two-story commercial building at 118 State St., all of 122 State St. (formerly the Fountain bar) and 124 State St. (formerly the Tiki Shack), and most of a three-story mixed-use building at 126 State St., which is also 117 W. Dayton St.

As part of the demolition, the pedestrian bridge across West Dayton Street to the city’s State Street Capitol Garage would also be removed.

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Ascendant’s proposal is the third project for which the Plan Commission has approved rezoning and allowed for extra height. The city previously approved extra height for the AC Hotel at 1 N. Webster St. and the Pressman apartments at 117 S. Hamilton St.

State Street hotel rendering night

On the West Dayton and North Carroll Streets sides, the proposed boutique hotel would reach nine stories.

The Council is expected to take up the proposal Sept. 25. If approved, the developer hopes to begin demolition and construction in March 2019 to be completed in September 2020.

Ascendant’s proposal has been in the works for about two years, surviving several design iterations and debates by several city committees and neighborhood groups. Ascendant Holdings principal Eric Nordeen previously said the project could not accommodate a smaller footprint.

“We’re really really pleased that the Plan Commission took a very careful and measured approach to examining the application and very deferential to the various other bodies within the city process that have also weighed in on it,” Nordeen said.

He also said the community support is “humbling.”

Jessica Morrison, owner of Vom Fass at 119 State St., is one of those supporters. She said the proposal is directly connected to the success of her and her husband’s business.

Morrison pointed out the need for changes on the block to curb criminal behavior the city has documented at the top of State Street, including fighting and the use of drugs.

“It’s the right thing for State Street right now,” Morrison. “It needs to be revitalized. It absolutely needs to be revitalized.”

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.