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Owner to seek demolition of Downtown building with Paisan's, new 14-story structure envisioned

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131 W. Wilson St. building

The Downtown office building that houses Paisan's restaurant could be demolished due to ongoing structural concerns. The owners have submitted a notice of their intent to file a demolition request. 

Demolition of the Downtown Madison office building that houses Paisan’s restaurant could begin as early as this summer if the owners’ plan is successful, making way for a possible new 14-story building with commercial and residential space.

Greg Rice, who represents the owners, submitted a notice Friday stating he intends to apply to tear down the 12-story building at 131 W. Wilson St. — despite objections from Paisan’s restaurant. The building has closed and reopened twice over the last several months due to ongoing structural concerns.

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On Monday, architect Kirk Keller will introduce a development proposal for 131 W. Wilson St. at a Bassett Neighborhood meeting. “The concept is a 14 story building built to the Capitol View Preservation Limit with underground parking, commercial space on floors 1 and 2, residential space on floors 3 through 14, and outdoor open space in front of the building along West Wilson,” according to the meeting’s agenda.

“This building is past its useful life and is in need of demolition,” Rice wrote Friday in the demolition notice to neighbors, the local business association and the City Council member representing the area.

The public notice is the first step in getting city approval for the demolition.

Next, Rice needs to file an application, which would be considered by city committees and need final approval from Madison’s Plan Commission. Rice, who is president of Executive Management Inc., which owns the property, is shooting for that process to be complete by the end of June, according to the notice.

Walter Borowski, co-owner of Paisan’s Italian Restaurant, called the demolition notice “a terrible development” in the ongoing saga of repercussions stemming from a degrading underground garage in the building.

“This is just another opportunity for Greg Rice and EMI to cause havoc for Paisan’s,” Borowski said.

The city ordered the property shut in September due to structural concerns raised in an engineering report and occupants of the building — constructed in 1971 — reportedly feeling a shaking or swaying inside. Temporary supports were installed in the parking garage, allowing it to reopen in October.

But the owners failed to keep up with the required inspections, causing another closure of the building in December. The building reopened in January after the city’s Building Inspection Division said common spaces were safe.

Borowski said he and the other Paisan’s owners have invested “a lot of money” into the restaurant because they expected it to be a long-term investment. He said Rice and the building owners “have not done anything to ameliorate the problems that they have caused by their inaction,” and now are giving up.

Rice had not responded to a request for comment.

It’s unclear whether the demolition request will be successful.

Ald. Patrick Heck, 2nd District, a member of the Plan Commission, said he’s not sure if the demolition request will receive pushback from the community.

“I don’t have a good sense of whether it will be controversial or not,” he said. “This is very early in the process.”

Borowski said he believes the Plan Commission won’t allow the demolition unless commissioners know what will happen to the property afterward. He said the planning process for such a project takes a long time, and as far as he knows, “none of that’s happened.”

Rice’s demolition notice did not provide information about what owners would plan to do with the property after the building is demolished.

Rice plans to submit the formal application with the city by May 16 so the demolition request can be considered at the Plan Commission’s June 27 meeting. On that timeline, the teardown would start in the summer and extend into the fall, said Matt Tucker, director of the city’s Building Inspection Division.

State Journal reporters Lucas Robinson and Logan Wroge contributed to this report.

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