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New developer to take over final piece of massive Judge Doyle Square project Downtown

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Judge Doyle Square

The vacant site of the former Government East parking garage, center, is where the final hotel and housing pieces of the massive Judge Doyle Square project will rise. To the left is the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co., site of the former Fess Hotel and a city landmark. At right is the completed first phase of Judge Doyle Square, including a parking garage, commercial space and housing. 

It has taken more than a decade, but work to complete the massive, $175 million Judge Doyle Square project Downtown may finally be coming to an end.

Mortenson Development, of Minneapolis, which assumed construction rights for a nine-story, 260-room hotel at the project site from Beitler Real Estate Services, of Chicago, last year, is now moving to take over rights for the last piece of the two-block redevelopment: an 11-story, 222-unit apartment building and parking garage.

As part of the plan, Mortenson intends to implement an ambitious construction schedule, starting work on the hotel in coming months and the apartment tower perhaps later this year. The block once held the now-razed Government East parking garage a block south of Capitol Square.

The city previously chose Stone House Development of Madison to take over the first phase of the project from Beitler and build a $40 million apartment building with some lower-cost units above a $50.4 million city-owned structure with an underground parking garage, first-floor commercial space and bike center, and two floors of parking above the commercial space on the block that also contains the Madison Municipal Building. The parking garage is open, and the housing has been completed.

At one time, Beitler controlled all three phases of the redevelopment and in 2016 wowed the city with a bold design featuring curved, shimmering, glass-sheathed towers on each side of Pinckney Street. Now, the company will be completely off the project without ever turning a shovel.

“Madison needs more housing, so I’m glad to see another proposal to build housing in the heart of our city,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said of Mortenson’s involvement in the project. “I’m also glad that we’ve been able to move the Judge Doyle Square project forward without drama, with one apartment building, a bike center, public parking and commercial space already built and a hotel in the works.”

As with the hotel, the city must amend a development agreement with Beitler to assign development rights for the housing parcel to Mortenson, said Matt Mikolajewski, city economic development director. The city must also enter into a purchase and sale agreement with Mortenson. Both documents will need City Council approval.

“While negotiations are continuing, the city is approaching this with the same contract structure used for the hotel where Beitler assigned its rights to Mortenson and the city sold the parcel to Mortenson,” City Attorney Michael Haas said. “That is what is anticipated here.”

“The final piece of the Judge Doyle Square puzzle is seemingly at hand,” said Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District. “It’s just a great relief to know the development on two key blocks of Downtown real estate is finally coming to fruition.”

Mortenson officials could not be reached for comment.

‘Going gangbusters’

For the final phase, Mortenson is proposing a major alteration to Beitler’s previously approved plan for a mixed-use building with about 204 housing units.

Mortenson’s proposal includes a parking “podium” partially built into the ground and an 11-story tower with 222 market-rate apartments, plans submitted to the city say. The units will include a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“The Downtown housing market continues to be going gangbusters,” Verveer said. “(But) it’s unfortunate there doesn’t seem to be lower-cost housing in the proposed building, something Downtown desperately needs.”

Judge Doyle Square map

The project will feature a ground-floor lobby on East Doty Street and amenities for residents on the top floor. Parking and service entries will be off East Wilson Street, the plans say.

The building will use the entire footprint of the site for the parking podium, while the tower will sit back from the edges, the plans say. The exterior design will be largely opaque surfaces with windows “punched” in the façade and balconies projecting from the tower. Along Doty Street, the façade is partially set back to preserve the view of the adjacent sign painted on a wall for the former Fess Hotel, revealed after decades when Government East was demolished.

Mortenson is scheduled to make an informational presentation to the city’s Landmarks Commission at 5 p.m. Monday. The site is located next to the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co., 123 Doty St., the successor to the Fess, now a city landmark. The Landmarks Commission will make an advisory recommendation for the final piece of the project, with additional approvals needed from the Plan and Urban Design commissions and City Council.

A complex project

The Judge Doyle Square saga has been unfolding for more than 12 years. In March 2012, a draft staff report envisioned new hotels, housing, offices, stores, restaurants, a bike center and a massive underground parking garage on the two blocks in “possibly as complex a project as the city has ever undertaken.”

In 2016 — after failed attempts to advance the project — the city chose Beitler for the redevelopment. Beitler’s design drew accolades, but legal disputes with the city followed and in January 2019 the City Council approved paying Beitler $700,000 to give up its development rights to the Municipal Building block.

The city then issued a new request for proposals and eventually chose Stone House for that portion of the project.

After the underground Wilson Street Garage opened in June 2020, the city proceeded with demolition of the aging Government East parking garage to pave the way for Beitler’s two projects on that block: the hotel and potential apartments.

In October 2020, Beitler announced it planned to build a nine-story, less-flashy structure than originally proposed but one that retained the curved shape facing the street. The city approved the change, and Beitler was to have secured building permits by the end of 2021.

But Beitler assigned its development rights for the hotel to Mortenson late last year, and Mortenson secured approvals for the hotel.

Beitler also had initial general approval for the housing project, with building permits to be secured no later than the end of 2022 but reached an agreement to also assign the development rights for that portion of the project to Mortenson.

In the end, the two main goals of the Judge Doyle Square project — replacing Government East and securing a new hotel to serve Monona Terrace — will have been met, Verveer said.

“Once complete, these two blocks will bring even more energy to our already vibrant Downtown,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Dean Mosiman's memorable stories from 2021

As the community emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been amazing to witness the creativity, dedication to causes and resilience that give hope and promise. I chose stories that reflect that dynamic, some involving long-held dreams, including pieces about a vision for the next Downtown in the wake of the pandemic and protests against racism, and the Bayview Foundation's plans for redevelopment of low-income housing into what will be one of the coolest neighborhoods in Madison. A proposal for an 18-story housing tower that would have razed the historic Wonder Bar with its gangster lore on the South Side revived a movement to save the building with the final chapters of the saga yet to be written. After fits and starts, the Wisconsin Historical Society chose a site for a long-sought, $120 million museum at the top of State Street. And I was able to document the move of a homeless man from the once sprawling homeless encampment at Reindahl Park near East Towne to the city's first tiny shelter encampment in an industrial area on the Southeast Side.

There's been so much more -- the plight of event venues amid the pandemic, the Urban League of Greater Madison's proposed Black Business Hub and the unveiling of plans for the Center for Black Excellence and Culture, both on the South Side, new investments and initiatives to address gun violence, the coming of bus rapid transit and a transit network redesign.

It will be something to watch so many of these ventures come to fruition in coming years.

"Once complete, these two blocks will bring even more energy to our already vibrant Downtown."

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway

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