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Judge Doyle Square podium rendering

The "podium," seen in this rendering of one possible design for the structure, was at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the Judge Doyle Square developer against the city of Madison.

When the developer of the massive public-private Judge Doyle Square project decided to sue the city last month, it threw the timing and design of the development into doubt.

For one thing, it’s not clear if and when the lower portion of one of the buildings — known as the podium — will be topped by nine stories of apartments, as plans originally called for.

But the city is moving ahead. On Wednesday, the city’s architect presented altered podium designs to the Urban Design Commission, earning praise from the UDC chair for their ability to stand alone if the apartments fall through.

“I think it’s a good response … it seems like it stands alone, rather than waiting for something,” said Dick Wagner, chair of the UDC.

Judge Doyle Square, the two-block area in downtown Madison, encompasses the Madison Municipal Building on Block 88 and the Government East parking garage on Block 105. Plans for the site include a hotel, apartments, retail and commercial space, a bicycle center and parking on the two blocks. The building with a podium — which includes parking, retail and a structural slab — and nine stories of 148 apartments is slated for Block 88.

The developer of the project, Beitler Real Estate Services, is suing the city, claiming officials “unilaterally seized” some private portions of the project when it approved additional funds to construct them.

“Due to a change in the transaction with our development partner, Beitler out of Chicago, we can no longer deliver an assurance that those 148 apartments are going to go above,” Natalie Erdman, director of the city Department of Planning and Community and Economic Development, said Wednesday.

But the city is moving forward, and on Wednesday appeared at the UDC for the second time for feedback on the changing design.

Designs for the entire building on Block 88, including the podium, were originally designed to be encased in a glass facade. But glass is expensive and since the city has taken over the podium portion of the project, officials suggested designs limiting the use of glass facade.

In June, architects hired by the city presented three new options for the podium design to the Urban Design Commission, all changing the above-ground parking structure to an “open garage plan.” 

The UDC didn’t like any of the options and asked for a more contemporary design that could stand by itself in case plans for the upper stories change. If a glass facade wasn’t feasible, they said, the architect should consider a different screening material.

On Wednesday, the architect presented two updated plans for an informational presentation of possible podium designs. The city was not yet seeking approval from the commission.

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The UDC liked different aspects of both designs, with used battens as a screen for a more contemporary look. One design featured white precast with battens above, while the other brought the battens down to the ground. On both designs, white spandrel glass surrounded the pedestrian entryways.

The city Landmarks Commission approved the designs earlier this month and Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc. found this iteration of designs to be “much improved,” Erdman said.

Erdman said the city is planning to file for a major alteration in August, at which point the project will return to the UDC for final approval.

The legal trouble with the project began when Beitler representatives said they could not afford to build the apartment project as planned. Rising construction costs resulted in an increase from $32 million to $48.5 million for the private component on Block 88, the city said.

The city then approved an additional $11 million to fund the podium. The city says Beitler suggested that the city fund the podium as a solution to rising costs.

But according to Beitler’s lawsuit, “Beitler was not consulted or even informed of the city’s unilateral proposal to the Finance Committee to build the podium in violation of the development agreement. Beitler only learned of the proposal through the newspaper.”

Beitler is asking the federal court to stop Madison from moving forward with constructing this part of the project. In late June, the city hired outside legal counsel to represent it in the lawsuit.

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