After many designs and redesigns, the plans for a proposed boutique hotel on State Street finally received the backing of the city’s Urban Design Commission on Wednesday night.
Commissioners said the boutique hotel, which would offer about 130 guest rooms, a first floor restaurant and a rooftop terrace and bar, was “getting close” to the final design and unanimously granted it initial approval. They also said they believed the standards were met for the height, which has been a major point of contention for the project.
The hotel developer is Ascendant Holdings Real Estate of Madison and Milwaukee, and Central Properties of Madison is a partner. Provenance Hotels, a "lifestyle" hotel company based in Portland, Oregon, will run the $40 million development.
The hotel plans have already gone through a number of design iterations. It has vacillated between modern and traditional designs, and then was retooled when the developer purchased two additional properties for the project. The project first appeared before the UDC over a year ago.
The last time the project appeared at the UDC, the commission said the materials in the limestone building were heavy and overwrought, said Ken Gowland, an architect with Metro Studio.
In the current design iteration, the first four limestone stories are still “traditional, heavy masonry,” but with a more contemporary glass and steel design above, said Eric Nordeen, co-founder of Ascendant Holdings Real Estate, in a July interview.
“It’s respectful of the history, but it’s not meant to look old in any way,” Nordeen said.
The hotel is slated for 118, 122, 124 and 126 State St. The facades of the two “bookend” buildings, 118 State St. and 126 State St., will be partially retained, including their facades.
Nordeen said in July that there was a lot of community interest in preserving parts of those two buildings, which requires a significant cost increase. While the developer originally viewed the move as a “giveback” to the community, they came to appreciate the “sense of history rhythm of the storefronts,” the design creates, he said.
“It’s good for the community, but it’s also good for our hotel. Because you want people to walk out and feel like they’re in a true kind of urban context,” Nordeen said.
On State Street, facades will 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.
Height has been a consistent concern for the project. The developer reduced the height by 11 feet, but it is still 19 feet above what is allowed in the downtown height map. The developer is asking for a zoning change to accommodate the height.
The downtown height map only allows for six stories and a total of 88 feet. The hotel would be nine stories at 107 feet. The developer noted that since the ninth floor is set back, the eighth floor is what will be visible to pedestrians on the ground, at a height of 95 feet.
A letter submitted to the city from the Capitol Neighborhoods Steering Committee describes a “strong divide” in the neighborhood between those who believe the hotel “will bring new and exciting opportunities to upper State Street” and those who take issue with the height and say the standards for approval are not met.
Fred Mohs, speaking in opposition to the project, voiced concern that allowing this height would set a bad precedent. Mohs, whose law firm's office is at 20 N. Carroll, has served on the board of many local committees over the years, including the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation and Downtown Madison Inc. He said that since the height map was instituted “so far no one has pierced that, no one has changed that,” he said.
“This is a heavy decision. The building could be built obviously to conform (to height standards), but they don’t want to,” he said.
In their initial approval on Wednesday, commissioners said they believed the project had met the standards for additional height, including that “additional height allows for a demonstrated higher quality building” and “is compatible with the existing and planned character of the surrounding area.”
UDC Chair Dick Wagner added that this allowance was "due to its unique circumstances in relationship to the Square and other buildings" and should not set a precedent for the rest of State Street.
Commissioners agreed that the current plans were a significant improvement and were circling the final design. Commissioner Cliff Goodhart said that while he thought the design was “close,” the West Dayton and North Carroll Streets sides of the building looked like “a building on top of a building,” which could be fixed with a “just a little bit of articulation and a little bit of change of proportions.”
The project is slated to appear before the city’s Plan Commission on Sept. 17 and the City Council on Sept. 25. The city’s Landmarks Commission signed off on the project in July.