It started as a dream to create an entrepreneurial hub, somewhere in the central city.

Now, StartingBlock Madison will be the anchor for a project that has grown to a proposed two towers of commercial space in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue — some of it, to be occupied by American Family Insurance — plus a city-owned parking ramp that might be built a block away.

The total project cost could top $60 million.

“This will be an exciting project for the city of Madison,” said Scott Resnick, the new executive director of StartingBlock.

But it still has some hurdles to cross.

The StartingBlock concept has been under discussion for about two and a half years. It will occupy about 50,000 square feet of space and serve as home to the Sector67 maker space, gener8tor business accelerator, Capital Entrepreneurs mentor group, and presumably, a flock of young businesses looking to take advantage of the array of resources.

Last fall, StartingBlock became part of a proposal by Gebhardt Development to build a 10- to 12-story building with up to 140,000 square feet of space and four floors of parking.

Now, Gebhardt is looking at constructing two buildings at the site on the south side of the 800 block of East Washington with 240,000 square feet of space. An eight-story structure would feature StartingBlock on the first four floors. A second building, up to 12 stories tall, would include a performing arts venue that would seat up to 1,500 people and other commercial space. No housing units would be included. A culinary training center may also be part of the development.

A parking ramp could be built about a block away, at Main and Livingston streets.

Architect and project manager for the development, Christopher Gosch, of Bark Design, said the project has nearly doubled in size as interest has grown.

“We’re definitely getting a lot of interest to fill that,” Gosch said. He said designs are still being finalized and the size of the second building is still being determined. “If it’s less than 12 (stories), I think we would be disappointed.”

Resnick, who’s been part of the group that instigated StartingBlock, said plans are to present the proposal to city committees in July and August, with the hope the project will be approved and construction can start by the end of the year.

If that happens, StartingBlock could open in “early winter” of 2016, Resnick said.

Stumbling blocks for StartingBlock

At least two stumbling blocks have held up action on the project: fundraising for StartingBlock and parking for those who will use the Gebhardt development.

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A potential parking plan, by the city and Madison Gas & Electric, was presented to the city’s Transit and Parking Commission last week. The city would build and own a four-story ramp with about 600 stalls, at an estimated cost of $12 million, on land MGE owns at Main and Livingston streets.

It could serve Breese Stevens Field and Central Park, both nearby, as well as the Gebhardt development, Resnick said.

The commission took no action on the plan. “It’s a concept right now,” said commission member, District 18 Ald. Rebecca Kemble. “It is one scenario of several.”

Meanwhile, the city has pledged $1.5 million to help build StartingBlock, which has received nonprofit status, as long as StartingBlock comes up with matching funds. Two organizations have committed funds so far.

StartingBlock organizers said Tuesday the MGE Foundation, the utility’s charitable arm, will donate $150,000 and the Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times, will provide $50,000 for the project.

“Our innovative enterprise businesses are sending a clear signal that they value entrepreneurship and view it as a vital piece of the success for our region,” said Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.

But $1.3 million more is needed. “Most of my role between now and when the center will open will be fundraising,” said Resnick, who is also chief operating officer at Hardin Design & Development.

“We have a number of phenomenal leads from the community but to make this a reality, we will need our community partners to step up,” said Resnick, a former City Council member and unsuccessful candidate for mayor in April.

American Family Insurance has committed to financial backing for StartingBlock but has not disclosed the size or nature of its contribution.

Resnick said American Family will pay for construction of the eight-story building that will house StartingBlock, and the presentation to the city panel last week said American Family also will occupy part of that building. The project would “create a downtown location for one of the region’s largest companies,” the presentation by Madison economic development officials said.

American Family’s headquarters are on the far Northeast Side, at 6000 American Parkway. Only a portion of the company’s more than 3,000 local employees would be moved.

Construction costs for the Gebhardt development have not been disclosed, but Resnick said the StartingBlock portion alone will cost about $10 million. If that estimate holds true for the rest of the project, total costs could run about $50 million for the two buildings.

This will be one of three Gebhardt projects in the area.

The firm built the Constellation with 220 apartments and commercial space on the 700 block of East Washington. The building opened in 2013.

Under construction now is the Galaxie, a 14-story office, grocery store, apartment building and parking ramp on the north side of the 800 block of East Washington with an estimated price tag of $90 million.

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