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Judge Doyle Square site

George Austin led a team of city negotiators in crafting a deal with JDS Development and Exact Sciences Corp. His contract was to last through January 2016, but with negotiations completed early to accommodate Exact Sciences, City Council members voted to extend his contract through the original date by adding more money to the contract.

A day after plans for a $200 million redevelopment of Judge Doyle Square collapsed, Madison City Council members reaffirmed their faith in the consultant who led negotiations on the city’s behalf.

Council members voted 15-4 to approve up to a $30,000 contract extension for Judge Doyle Square project director George Austin to compensate for the expedited negotiating timeline that Austin had to work under to accommodate Exact Sciences Corp. and to continue his service through January 2016.

Austin led a team of city staff in brokering development and tax increment financing agreements with Exact Sciences and JDS Development that would have brought Exact Sciences’ headquarters Downtown and provided a new hotel to serve Monona Terrace.

The deal was approved by the City Council on Sept. 30, but it fell apart Monday when Exact Sciences announced its withdrawal from the project and said it instead plans to expand at University Research Park on the West Side. The development comes about a month after a federal review of the company’s noninvasive, DNA-based stool test, caused its stock to plummet, raising concerns about the viability of Exact Sciences as an anchor tenant in the development.

Ald. David Ahrens, 15th District, the most outspoken critic of the Judge Doyle Square project, was joined by Alds. Samba Baldeh, 17th District, Rebecca Kemble, 18th District, and Barbara Harrington-McKinney, 1st District, in voting against the resolution. Ald. Sheri Carter, 14th District, abstained.

Ahrens argued that Austin skewed the process since its inception, including the decision to negotiate exclusively with one developer.

“The purpose of a consultant for me is to collect information – a broad range of information – and to give that information to us and then we evaluate it and make a decision,” Ahrens said. “It’s not to promote one particular point of view over another point of view … Right from the onset, the consultant was really defining the direction.”

But several council members and Mayor Paul Soglin rushed to Austin’s defense, saying elected officials determined the process for reviewing projects and negotiating exclusively with JDS and Exact Sciences.

“We are ultimately responsible for the structure of this process,” said Ald. Chris Schmidt, 11th District. “And we’re also responsible for the directive that is given to the people that we hire as staff and consultants.”

Austin negotiated a deal that was secure and had guarantees to protect the city, Soglin added.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members also approved a $1.43 million tax increment financing (TIF) loan for the second phase of Gebhardt Development’s Galaxie mixed-use project on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue. The second phase includes about 50 apartments, 21,800 square feet of commercial space, 6,630 square feet of retail space, a rooftop farm that was funded in the initial phase and about 190 parking stalls.

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