The Judge Doyle Square project in Downtown Madison has been a long time coming.
So we’re pleased that Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison City Council — after years of troubling obstacles and discarded plans — are pressing ahead to finally get this done.
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The City Council voted 15-0 last week to smooth over a legal dispute with Beitler Real Estate Services, which was hired to develop most of the two-block site behind the Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
The vote will send $700,000 to the developer in exchange for some of the developer’s rights to the project, which can then be offered to a different developer of the city’s choosing. On its remaining portion of the project, Beitler also must accelerate construction of a long-desired hotel to serve Monona Terrace, which should help attract larger conventions.
The City Council had rejected two previous proposals to get past a potentially costly court battle with Chicago-based Beitler. So a lot was riding on last week’s third attempt, proposed by Mayor Soglin, which thankfully won over council members upset with the developer.
We now hope and expect the legal headaches and exposure will go away for good.
City officials say the $700,000 expense can probably be absorbed from money the city already committed to building parking and commercial space on the Municipal Building block of the project. We will be watching closely for taxpayers to make sure that does in fact occur.
We also urge the city to quickly and actively pursue a new developer for its expanded portion of the project. At the same time, Beitler should follow through with its hotel and apartments, where the outdated Government East parking ramp has stood.
If all goes as planned, more than $100 million should be added to city tax rolls just south of the Capitol Square on an underutilized site. Downtown Madison also will benefit from an influx of activity, residents, visitors and business.
It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point. Exact Sciences, a fast-growing biotechnology company in Madison, previously won permission to build its headquarters on the site. It unfortunately backed out in 2015 because of an unrelated federal regulatory setback.
Before that, city leaders rejected an exciting and worthy proposal to restore and turn the Municipal Building into a hotel with a tower and scenic deck overlooking Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Before that, city leaders envisioned a public market and other amenities near a Downtown rail station. Former Gov. Scott Walker ruined that fine idea when he nixed federal funding for a high-speed train between Madison and Milwaukee.
The latest plans for Judge Doyle Square might not be as dramatic as some of the previous proposals for the site. But the project definitely will benefit Madison and the region in positive ways. It is well worth pursuing.
Madison has tried for decades to discard its reputation of being a difficult place to build and do business. Finishing Judge Doyle Square in a grand way will do a lot to improve the city’s image and, more importantly, to further energize the central city.