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Downtown Condo Project

Populance is proposing a six-story, 19-unit condominium project at 222 S. Hamilton St., across the street from the Dane County Courthouse, which would be the first new condo units added to the core Downtown in a decade.

For a time, Downtown condos were all the rage, with hundreds of posh units in stylish buildings bringing new residents and evolving the look of blocks around Capitol Square.

Then, the market saturated and the Great Recession struck, with the last major condo projects in the core Downtown completed around 2008.

But now, amid a thriving economy, a resurgent demand for Downtown home ownership, and desire for new units, a developer is proposing to demolish a three-story office building for a six-story, modernist structure with 930 square feet of commercial space, 19 condos and structured parking on a triangular parcel at 222 S. Hamilton St., across the street from the Dane County Courthouse.

“Given the current dynamics of housing and construction markets, as well as this unique and desirable site, we believed an owner-occupied project at a smaller scale would provide a market solution to the current lack of new owner-occupied product in the Downtown Madison core,” said Christopher Gosch, a principal of Populance.

The building, called “The Barracuda,” would be clad in glass, wood and stone with a distinct base, middle and top. All units would have two bedrooms with sleeping porches, which are covered outside spaces adaptable to use throughout the year. Fifth-floor units would have outdoor terraces. There would be underground parking for 19 cars.

So far, the reception has been largely positive.

“It’s definitely a good thing,” said Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the core Downtown. “I don’t foresee any significant hurdles for the approval of the project.”

In general, the project has been well received, with some concern about the impacts of construction, increased traffic, and protecting viewscapes of current residents, said Jonathan Cooper, chair of the Bassett District for Capitol Neighborhoods, Inc.

A proposal to build Downtown condos again has been long coming.

In 1998, architect Kenton Peters informally ignited a decade-long condo boom by remaking and expanding the Union Transfer building, 155 E. Wilson St., into 29 upscale condominiums with sweeping views of Lake Monona.

Many more projects followed, with Metropolitan Place, phase two, 333 W. Mifflin St., and the first phase of the Capitol West mixed-use project, 309 W. Washington Ave., bringing the last new condo units in 2007 and 2008. The condo market, however, withered in the recession, and those projects, which brought more than 300 condo units online at roughly the same time, took years to sell out.

As the economy recovered, a new Downtown housing boom came, but it was virtually all tony rental units. But quietly, demand for Downtown condos and prices rose in recent years.

“We are finding the demand for new owner-occupied condo homes in the right location in city centers to be very strong,” Gosch said.

Verveer said, “It’s an extremely hot market, and has been for some time. I don’t think there’s any concern about absorbtion of these units.”

Chris Atkinson, a Realtor who does Downtown condo sales, said buyers currently must choose from units 10 to 20 years old and that there is pent-up demand from those who want to be the first in a unit and have the ability to customize the space.

It’s too early to tell if the Populance project marks the start of a new trend, he said.

City and neighborhood leaders see home ownership as a way to strengthen the Downtown.

“I believe that long-term residents, whether owner-occupied or rental, are generally more involved in their community and concerned about the long-term health of their neighborhoods,” Verveer said.

Cooper agreed, but said such owner-occupied housing unfortunately doesn’t help address the serious need for affordable housing in the city’s core.

If approvals are secured, Populance hopes to begin construction in October with the project completed in the summer of 2019.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.