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City Council OKs buying building near East Towne for homeless men's shelter
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City Council OKs buying building near East Towne for homeless men's shelter

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In a second bid at obtaining the site, the Madison City Council approved Tuesday purchasing a vacant big-box store near East Towne Mall to serve as a homeless men's shelter.

The council voted 14-6 to buy the 31,550-square-foot building at 2002 Zeier Road for $2.6 million. The property is being billed as a temporary shelter solution for men experiencing homelessness, who currently are sheltered overnight at a city-owned building on the East Side slated to become the Public Market.

A search is ongoing for a permanent, purpose-built shelter location, and while the Zeier Road property isn't ruled out, community development director Jim O'Keefe has said it's "highly unlikely" to be chosen from the several sites being vetted.

The area's representative, Ald. Gary Halverson, 17th District, said city staff and the council are committed to finding a purpose-built shelter location, but he argued there's a "false sense of urgency" to purchase the Zeier Road property and said some of his constituents believe it will become the permanent site.

Ald. Brian Benford, 6th Distirct, said the city needs "many, many options" to address homelessness and acquiring the building broadens the city's choices.

"The first step is securing these properties," Benford said. "The first step is keeping every option on the table."

In May, the council supported buying the 2.7-acre Zeier Road property as a permanent men's shelter on a 14-5 vote. But because the action was tied to a fund transfer from the county, it failed to reach the 15-vote supermajority needed to pass.

Council members who opposed making Zeier Road a permanent shelter last spring argued its distance from Downtown and homelessness service providers made it a bad choice and urged the city to keep searching for better properties. Supporters acknowledged the location wasn't ideal, but said denying the purchase would delay the opening of an urgently needed purpose-built shelter.

This time around, the $2.6 million purchase, which is funded from a land banking program, needed a simple majority of 11 votes to pass.

The city faces a potential time crunch to move the men's shelter out of the former Fleet Services building at 200 N. First St. and into another temporary location. Work is expected to begin later next year on converting the industrial garage into the Public Market but a permanent shelter could be at least two years away from opening.

"Zeier Road offers an opportunity to fill that need to make sure we're not scrambling to find a temporary shelter sometime next year," said Matt Wachter, city planning, community and economic development director.

Alds. Syed Abbas, Sheri Carter, Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Charles Myadze, Nasra Wehelie and Halverson voted against the purchase. All but Wehelie, who was excused from the May meeting, previously opposed Zeier Road becoming the permanent shelter location.

Relatedly, a proposal to buy a fire-damaged former tavern on the Far East Side for unspecified "options to address homelessness" also passed the council. The 2.1-acre property at 1902 Bartillon Drive, which is near Stoughton Road and East Washington Avenue, is set to be purchased for $855,000 through the city's land acquisition fund.

Introduced a little over two weeks ago, Halverson asked for a decision on the purchase to be delayed so neighbors could weigh in on a future use and for city staff to potentially deliver a specific plan. The council defeated the referral attempt and ultimately approved the purchase on a 19-1 vote with Halverson opposed.

Judge Doyle Square

In other action, the council amended a development agreement to allow a Chicago-based developer to transfer its rights on the 260-room hotel portion of the Judge Doyle Square project Downtown to a different developer from Minnesota.

Beitler Real Estate Services can now hand over the rights to Mortenson Development Inc. to build the nine-story hotel for the two-block, private-public redevelopment. Long in the making, the $175 million Judge Doyle Square project encompasses the block with the Madison Municipal Building and the block across South Pinckney Street where the now-razed Government East parking garage used to be.

As part of the rights transfer, the city will sell the property for the hotel to Mortenson for $4 million instead of issuing a ground lease on it. The hotel is intended to serve Monona Terrace.

Beitler has now given up rights to two of the three private components of the project — the hotel and housing on the block with the Municipal Building. The developer continues to retain rights on building a second housing component.


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