Essen Haus block

McGrath Property Group has downsized redevelopment plans for the block that holds Madison’s renowned German restaurant Essen Haus, the green facade above, and the Come Back In, at left. The new concepts still demolish the Essen Haus and preserve the Come Back In building, but now save four rental houses along South Blair Street.

After meetings with neighborhood members, a developer has revised plans for a project on a prominent Downtown block that would still demolish the Essen Haus restaurant and reuse the neighboring Come Back In tavern but now would preserve four rental houses.

McGrath Property Group has a contract to purchase three buildings in the center of the 500 block of East Wilson Street, a large parking lot behind them and four houses from 110 to 120 S. Blair St.

The developer isn’t buying the landmark Hotel Ruby Marie and its Up North Bar at the corner of East Wilson and South Blair streets or the tiny vacant lots at 502-504 E. Wilson St. where the former O’Cayz Corral bar stood before it was destroyed by fire in 2001.

Under revised concept plans, McGrath would still raze the Essen Haus, 514 E. Wilson St., and a small adjacent commercial building in poor condition at 518 E. Wilson St., for a five-story structure that would provide 180 apartments, 9,000 to 10,000 square feet of commercial space, and 208 parking stalls above and below ground.

The Come Back In would be renovated as a separate building and provide some of the commercial space for the overall project. The four houses at 110 to 120 S. Blair St. would be preserved, as some in the neighborhood had sought.

Lance McGrath could not be reached. His architect, Marc Schellpfeffer of CaS Architecture, said the revisions were made in response to suggestions from the neighborhood and city staff. “We’ve reduced the overall footprint,” he said. “Lance was willing to go back and look at the project and keep the rental housing.”

Ald. Marsha Rummel, 6th District, who represents the area, and Robert Worm, who has owned the buildings and the popular establishments — but not the vacant lot — since 1983, could not be reached.

The revised concept still shows a taller single story along both East Wilson and South Blair streets to allow for better commercial spaces and to shield the parking structure. Above that level on those streets would be four stories of housing. The structure would step down from five to three stories, the scale of the neighboring Germania Apartments, on South Franklin Street.

The revised concept is considerably smaller than the five-story redevelopment shared in late March that would have delivered 240 apartments, up to 20,000 square feet of commercial space, 340 parking spaces and required demolition of the housing.

McGrath is scheduled to make informational presentations before the city’s Landmarks Commission on Monday and Urban Design Commission on Wednesday.

The city’s Downtown Plan allows six stories at the street edges of East Wilson and South Blair streets, stepping down to three stories on South Franklin and East Main streets. Most of the parcel is in the first Settlement Historic District, but the East Wilson Street frontage is in the National Register of Historic Places, not the local historic district.

Any proposed demolitions or new construction would require approval by the Landmarks Commission, and any project would also be reviewed by the Plan and Urban Design commissions. If McGrath seeks to rezone the four houses on South Blair Street, or to exceed height limits, the proposal would also go to the City Council.

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