Construction on a five-story boutique hotel on the 900 block of East Washington Avenue is underway, and now developer Curt Brink is proposing to build a 13-story office building next door.
It’s the latest towering building on the busy traffic corridor, but it falls within zoning limits and the city’s vision for the area.
In 2002, Brink, along with investors Jim and Marlene Korb, bought a 4.3 acre site at 901 E. Washington Ave., the former home of the Mautz Paint factory. In the following years, Brink proposed a spate of projects on the site, including a 27-story building, but they all failed to gain traction.
Brink has previously said that although those projects didn’t work out, they helped rezone the area from a three-story maximum to allow for towers like the 12-story Constellation apartments on the corridor today.
“They wouldn’t let me go that high, but what that did, it got the zoning changed,” Brink said. “That’s what helped change the city.”
Last year, Brink received approval to turn the historic Kleuter building on the property into a 144-room hotel and restaurant known as Hotel Indigo. Construction is underway to restore the existing five-story Kleuter building and add an adjacent five-story building; the hotel is slated to open April 1 next year.
At the time, Brink said the hotel was just the first phase for the block, named “Archipelago Village.” Now he, along with his primary partners, the Korbs, are proposing a 13-story office building next to the hotel. The office building would have a commercial space on the first floor, and tenants would utilize a parking ramp on the block, which would be built simultaneously.
Brink said a tower has been his plan “basically since we bought the property 16 years ago,” but he had to wait for zoning to line up with his vision. The permitted heights for Urban Design District #8, which includes the project site, are 12 stories, with a possibility of three “bonus” stories, and the Capitol Gateway Corridor Plan calls for employment on the 900 block.
If built, the tower would join recent projects like Gebhardt Development’s Constellation on the 700 block of East Washington, as well as the 14-story Galaxie High Rise Apartments and the eight-story Spark building on the 800 block. Stone House Development built the 11-story Lyric Apartments on the 1000 block of East Washington, and has plans to add an 11-story apartment building and a four-story Madison Youth Arts Center to the block.
All of these projects fall within the Marquette Neighborhood Association and Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association, which are split by East Washington Avenue. Jack Kear, the co-chair of the Preservation & Development Committee for the MNA, said in an email that while he didn’t have any information on the proposed office tower, generally, “neighborhood interest is more in developing the East Wash corridor and protecting the nature of Willy Street.” However, once more is known about the proposed office tower, he expects residents to bring up concerns about topics like traffic.
“I think many people will ask the same question which is, ‘Why so big?’” he wrote.
Patrick Heck, a council member of the TLNA, similarly did not know many details of Brink’s office proposal, but also said traffic would be a likely neighborhood concern. He noted that the Stone House proposal for the 11-story apartment building on the 1000 block originally called for a 10-story office building.
“I think that the neighbors were particularly concerned about the office proposal because of the likelihood of a lot of cars coming and going at the same time — effectively at rush hour,” Heck said.
But City Planning Director Heather Stouder said in an email that city plans call for employment buildings on the south side of East Washington Avenue. Employment uses have “lagged behind” mixed-use residential development on the north side of the street, she wrote.
“We have not seen a recent version of Mr. Brink’s plans for the rest of the 900 Block, but see that as a key block along the corridor, and a natural next step,” she wrote. “We look forward to seeing the next iteration of Mr. Brink’s plans, and to supporting continued evolution of the corridor.”
Brink said he’ll likely begin the city approval process for the project in the next month or so, with hopes to start construction in late spring or early summer 2019.
He may add more buildings to the 900 block in the future, Brink said, but will first “have to see what the market does.”