As negotiations between Madison and JDS Development proceed on a deal to bring booming Exact Sciences Corp. to the proposed Judge Doyle Square project Downtown, Fitchburg is touting an alternative if talks collapse.
Three Fitchburg City Council members on Tuesday said they are offering a resolution to make preparations so Exact Sciences could break ground next month for new corporate offices in the Uptown Neighborhood near the crossroads of Highway 14 and Lacy Road.
In a press release, Alds. Patrick Stern, Dan Carpenter and Jason Gonzalez say negotiations between Madison and Exact Sciences have “reportedly stalled.” But in an interview, Stern said there was no evidence of a breakdown and that the release should have said their resolution is about concerns raised by Madison City Council members about Judge Doyle Square. He wants Fitchburg to be poised as an alternative.
“I want to be ready,” Stern said.
Madison, meanwhile, may also be forging a backup plan with the creation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district in the University Research Park on the West Side where Exact Sciences currently has corporate offices. A TIF district could let the city provide financial support for an Exact Sciences expansion there.
George Austin, Madison’s project manager for Judge Doyle Square, said negotiations between the city and JDS/Exact Sciences on Judge Doyle Square are on a pace to meet a tight deadline established by Exact Sciences to break ground in December.
The $202 million Judge Doyle Square redevelopment would bring a new headquarters for Exact Sciences, a hotel for Monona Terrace, commercial space and parking to blocks that hold the Madison Municipal Building and Government East parking garage.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and JDS signed a development agreement on July 14 and the sides are negotiating unresolved matters. Under a deadline set by Exact Sciences, they must bring an amended agreement to the Board of Estimates on Monday and City Council on Sept. 1.
At a recent update, Board of Estimates members questioned the completeness of JDS’ TIF application, the developer’s submissions on equity and debt, the loss of Government East parking during construction, and the design and uses of parking.
The city’s negotiating team is making progress on those items and expects to meet its deadlines, Austin said.
Exact Sciences spokesman J.P. Fielder said 99 percent of open matters should be resolved in coming days and hours. “Everybody has worked really hard on making this opportunity a reality, notably, the City Council,” he said.
Exact Sciences, with offices at University Research Park, also has a new lab in the Novation Campus off Rimrock Road in the town of Madison. It created the first and so far only federally approved noninvasive stool DNA colorectal cancer screening test now available for use in the U.S. and Europe.
The JDS/Exact Sciences proposal for Judge Doyle Square calls for 250,000 square feet of office space and a possible addition with 107,000 additional square feet.
“We have to look at alternative sites,” Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy said Thursday in an interview with the State Journal. “We don’t know that Judge Doyle Square will work out.”
“We’re looking in Fitchburg, in the (University) Research Park,” he said then. “But our primary focus is Judge Doyle Square.”
Exact Sciences is also considering an expansion at its site in the town of Madison, Conroy said.
“We’re very confident we will know where we will be in the next 30 to 60 days,” he said.
Stern said he became aware Exact Sciences was considering Fitchburg’s Uptown Neighborhood in the northeast corner of the city.
The resolution proposed by Stern, Carpenter and Gonzalez would direct Fitchburg’s mayor and staff to do the planning work necessary to expedite the possibility of Exact Sciences or another major project in the area.
“I was very excited when I first heard Exact Sciences was considering locating in Uptown,” Carpenter said in a statement. “The Highway 14 interchange opened three years ago and we’ve seen some development taking place, but it would have a generational impact in Fitchburg if we could land a major business like Exact Sciences in Uptown.”
As it negotiates with JDS on Judge Doyle Square, Madison is taking steps to create a new TIF district at University Research Park. Under TIF, the city and other taxing entities freeze the value of property in an area and make revenues from growth available for public infrastructure or private development.
The city’s new TIF policy allows the creation of two speculative TIF districts to help support employment-based projects, and this would be the first.
The proposed district plan envisions no public improvements, but says a potential $2.3 million would be available for development loans. It mentions no specific projects, only that loans would be made available “on an as-needed basis.”
City economic development director Matt Mikolajewski said the proposed district could support a number of projects and that, “in the back of our minds, yes, this could be a great location for Exact Sciences should the Downtown project not move forward.”
State Journal reporter Judy Newman contributed to this report.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include a more precise description of the screening test developed by Exact Sciences.