StartingBlock, a project touted as a potential city hub for young entrepreneurs, is still sitting on hold, a year and a half after supporters began meeting to plot out the concept as questions linger over a site and how to pay for the project.
But it’s still very much alive, proponents said.
The core group of 10 to 12 people continues to meet every month and has been fleshing out an operating plan, said Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, who’s also vice president of Hardin Design & Development.
“The plan has morphed as we’ve received more community input,” Resnick said, but the core elements remain: a bigger home for maker space Sector67; for startups to share space; and for a business accelerator such as gener8tor.
A big question is: Where will it be built? “The location has not been determined; however, we are still looking in the East Washington corridor area,” Resnick said.
Last summer, it looked as though the site would be the five-story, former Kleuter Building, 901 E. Washington Ave., commonly known as the former Mautz Paint Co. warehouse.
That’s still a possibility, said consultant George Austin, hired by supporters as project facilitator. But Austin said a city-owned site in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue on the south side of the street “is emerging as an interesting opportunity, depending on how the city chooses to dispose of it.”
The land, across from the new, upscale, high-rise apartment building, The Constellation, was formerly owned by auto dealer Don Miller.
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That option doesn’t sit too well with Curt Brink, who represents Archipelago Village, owner of the former Kleuter Building. A redevelopment proposal for the property was specifically designed to accommodate Sector67 as well as other occupants, he said.
“Our building, which StartingBlock could go into ... has all the city approvals on it,” Brink said. “They could possibly go someplace else but this is set here.”
Initial cost estimates for the project, which would include adding a five-story addition onto the Kleuter building and providing an auditorium, community meeting space and two floors of market-rate offices, were about $13.5 million.
Resnick said supporters are looking at possible grants and other funding sources. “It will take an investment from the community if the project is going to come to life,” he said.
Resnick said he would love to see Chicago investor and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker spur a commitment from Madison’s business community. Pritzker, who is credited with starting Chicago tech accelerator 1871, will speak at the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s neXXpo conference on Tuesday.
“He is an inspiration,” Resnick said. “Just as he stepped up for the city of Chicago, I hope we will find other business leaders who will step up for Madison.”
Austin said the goal for StartingBlock proponents is to have siting and fundraising completed in 2014, with plans approved, construction of the project and StartingBlock ready to go by the end of 2015.
— Judy Newman