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Commission approves part of major East Washington Avenue project, asks for changes

Commission approves part of major East Washington Avenue project, asks for changes

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Madison’s Urban Design Commission granted initial approval Wednesday for a four-story building as part of a major redevelopment on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, but weren’t quite satisfied that the plans met requirements to construct up to eight floors.

At the meeting, representatives from the Spark and Cosmos projects, collectively known as the “800 Block Project,” presented their designs for two structures that will add office space, a music venue with a 2,500-person capacity and a home for the city-supported entrepreneurial collaborative StartingBlock Madison.

Gebhardt Development’s Cosmos project faced scrutiny from some members who said the plans didn’t meet the requirements to allow a building to surpass acceptable height limits, such as enough public park space, a rent-free community room or the intent to build a LEED-certified structure.

But commission members granted final approval for the design of the Spark, a nine-story, 158,000-square-foot separate building that will house StartingBlock and provide office space for its developer American Family Insurance. It will be built next to the Cosmos and provide a public plaza between the structures.

“We’re very supportive of both projects. They’re the types of projects that we’ve wanted for this site for over a decade,” said Tim Parks, a planner for the city, “It’s the details that we’re focused on.”

Under the four-story design, the Cosmos would have a 40,025-square-foot music venue, to be operated by Frank Productions, and 52,900 square feet of retail and office space.

Expanding it to eight floors would provide between 40,000 square feet and 60,000 square feet of additional office space.

Developer Otto Gebhardt said the goal has always been to have the larger version of the Cosmos, adding that it would help add density and jobs to the neighborhood as well as benefit the city as a whole.

But Gebhardt said he would settle for the shorter height if issues could not be resolved.

Before the next commission meeting, the Cosmos development team will have to first make changes to address concerns about the four-story building that received initial approval, mainly the amount of bicycle parking, the look of the loading dock and the appearance of a public plaza at the corner of South Livingston and East Main streets.

To get approval for an eight-story building, other changes that would provide public benefits are needed.

The developers of both structures are looking to receive all needed approvals soon, since construction is planned to happen simultaneously, with goal of completion by the end of 2017.

Both projects are set to go before the Plan Commission on Dec. 12.

Earlier in November, a development agreement between the city, Gebhardt and American Family was approved by the City Council despite concerns voiced by some in the music industry about the impact of the proposed venue.

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