John Fish worked near the corner of Fordem and Sherman avenues on Madison's east side for years. Now he said he wants to help bring the area up to date with a new apartment and retail development.
Fish has proposed a four-story building to replace three vacant properties, including the former Fish & Schulkamp Insurance location, on the triangular piece of land where Fordem and Sherman meet.
The project, known as McKenzie Place, includes 60 market-rate apartments, a 62-stall underground parking garage and around 6,700 square feet for retail.
Fish sold the insurance agency to Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. of Illinois in 2011, and the building at 2117 Sherman Ave. went vacant soon after.
"That whole area just needs an uplift or a facelift or whatever you want to call it," Fish said. "From my standpoint, it's an area that's kind of my legacy and I'd like to make it something that I can be proud of down the road and the people in the area can use and at the same time bring some life back into the community in that area."
The proposal is scheduled for an advisory presentation at the Urban Design Commission on Wednesday before going before the Plan Commission on Aug. 24. It was met with some criticism at a previous neighborhood meeting, District 12 Ald. Larry Palm said.
The Sherman/Fordem Gateway is one of the areas highlighted in a June draft of the Emerson East-Eken Park-Yahara Neighborhood Plan, which spells out potential improvements over the next 10 to 15 years, Palm said.
Potential changes for the area in that report include Sherman Avenue turning to meet Fordem Avenue at a 90-degree angle where McGuire Street now stands. That would eliminate the existing Fordem-Sherman intersection that the plan described as "dangerous."
Palm said some who attended the neighborhood meeting on the McKenzie Place project were caught off guard by a development proposal coming so soon after the release of the neighborhood plan.
"They had a very challenging time separating out between what the city's illustrative idea about what this place could be and the very serious, 'I own the land and this is what I'm proposing,'" Palm said.
Some neighborhood residents raised concerns about the proposed building's four-story height, Palm said, but by the end of the meeting Fish said the group was "pretty positive" about the project.
Palm credited Fish for being "very deliberative" on the project and said the proposal fits into a density scale that he supports.
"I think the city of Madison needs to grow up — literally grow up — and develop more densely if it's going to continue to maintain growth without eating up more land," Palm said.
Fish said the proposed building design incorporates the possibility that Sherman Avenue won't extend past it at some point, as the neighborhood plan recommended.
The Fish & Schulkamp building, opened in 1948 as a National Food Stores location, has some historic value, the city's Landmarks Commission said. At its May 11 meeting, the commission passed a motion expressing regret for the loss of the building, which it said was "a good representation of a 1950s commercial building."
The commission said there was no known historic value in the other two buildings proposed for demolition at 2237 Sherman Ave. and 2241 Sherman Ave. The former was the home of Omega School from the late 1990s through the mid 2000s, while the latter once was the site of a Donutland store built in the late 1960s at the corner of Sherman and Fordem.
Fish said the land at one point housed a drive-in restaurant and a gas station, which has required some environmental clean-up.
He said he's working on acquiring the 2241 Sherman Ave. property to complete the project land, which, including undeveloped property at 2107 Sherman Ave., has a total land value of $278,500, according to city assessments.
Documents filed with the city planning department listed a proposed construction start date of October, with completion in July 2016.