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Madison may lease care facility for COVID-19 response, buy other site for development
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Madison may lease care facility for COVID-19 response, buy other site for development

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Madison may soon lease a big, vacant, former skilled nursing facility on the East Side as a possible temporary shelter in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Ald. Grant Foster, 15th District, are proposing that the city lease the 36,192-square-foot facility on 3.3 acres at 4502 Milwaukee St. from Watson Smith LLC for $900,000 for two years with an option to then buy the property for future redevelopment.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated move, Ald. Sheri Carter, 14th District, is proposing that the city buy a 28,000-square-foot building on a 1.6-acre site at 1810 S. Park St. from the Stopple Revokable Trust for $1.2 million to hold the property for redevelopment.

The proposals were introduced to the City Council on Tuesday and will be considered at a later date.

The city is looking to lease the former Karmenta Center, once the third-largest of Dane County’s 18 nursing homes but closed last spring and in foreclosure, as a possible short-term respite facility during the coronavirus pandemic, said Jim O’Keefe, city community development director.

The city and Dane County have been sheltering homeless women and children and vulnerable homeless men in multiple hotels and using one hotel for a respite facility for homeless who have displayed symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19, O’Keefe said. The partners now have more space to shelter homeless single women without COVID-19 symptoms at the Salvation Army of Dane County on the 600 block of East Washington Avenue, and are using the Warner Park Community Recreation Center on the North Side for homeless men without symptoms.

The former Karmenta Center could be put into service as a respite facility should the need emerge, O’Keefe said.

The X-shaped building offers about 55 separate rooms, laundry facilities, kitchen, offices, dining room, conference space, staff lounge, showers and restrooms. The city would have the right to use furniture, fixtures and other equipment at the property.

For the long term, the property is seen by the city and private sector as an attractive site to redevelop into affordable housing, officials said.

“It’s a relatively large site in a good location that is well-serviced by Metro Transit and holds a lot of opportunity for redevelopment,” said Foster, who represents the area. “A lease with option to purchase would give the city and neighbors much more influence in how the site is redeveloped in the future and is something I strongly support.”

The resolution would amend the city’s land acquisition budget by $900,000 over two years to fund the lease of the property. Of the sum, $375,000 is required in 2020, including $225,000 in lease payments and an additional $150,000 in utility and holding costs. A purchase would require further City Council action.

Park St. potential

The South Side property, assessed at $815,000 for 2019, includes 11,393 square feet of office space and 16,655 square feet of warehouse space. The site is occupied by K Beauty Supply, a cosmetology school and small offices, Carter said.

The acquisition would expand opportunities for the city to guide future housing and commercial development on the evolving South Park Street corridor, the resolution says.

“We have waited over 60 years for redevelopment to naturally occur,” Carter said. “In the meantime, the city has invested in several other parts of the city. It is our time.”

The city could become a landlord for awhile to help shape the building’s use, and seek proposals for a redevelopment sometime in the future, Carter said. In addition to the current offices and retail in the building, future uses could include startup or micro enterprises, training or co-working space, she said.

“The city is currently working on the South Madison Plan, which will provide guidance on future developments,” Carter said. “In the meantime, it makes sense this property is a starting point for the city’s long-term investment plan in South Madison. Approximately 40,000 cars pass by this property every day. Therefore, 1810 S. Park fits the real estate rule of location, location, location.”

Cultural factors

Developers are buying properties on the South Side and the city is wary of displacement and gentrification, officials have said.

“The threads of South Madison are diversity, multicultural experience, and the many languages that fill the neighborhood, and that makes the fabric of the neighborhoods,” Carter said. “It is imperative that the fabric of many colors, food aromas and language remains intact throughout this journey.”

In addition to the purchase cost, the proposal would use another $40,000 for environmental site assessment and other costs, and $20,000 to pay for holding costs for the rest of the year. The funds would come from tax incremental financing District No. 42 on the South Side.

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