Despite delays and an expensive legal dispute, the Judge Doyle Square project continues to move forward in Downtown Madison.
Several developers responded this month to the city’s request for a new builder to finish a portion of the massive project above an underground parking garage, which is nearing completion behind the Madison Municipal Building.
The strong private-sector interest shows the allure and health of Madison’s Downtown, as developers compete to create a dynamic new building.
Three developers are now proposing tens of millions of dollars in private investment. This includes a mix of apartments — some of them affordable for lower-income workers — retail space and other amenities.
The city, of course, must analyze the three options carefully. Having shelled out $700,000 to the original developer, Beitler Real Estate Services of Chicago, for the rights to build on the Municipal Building block, city officials can’t afford to suffer further surprise expense. Beitler and the city also must agree on Beitler’s plans for the Government East block, which appear to be changing. A hotel is needed to serve Monona Terrace conventions, but Beitler has indicated it wants to replace underground parking with a swimming pool to help secure a hotelier in one of two towers it hopes to erect. The changes could complicate land-use approvals.
Those uncertainties aside, three options for the Municipal Building block look good on the surface.
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Gebhardt Development’s $52 million proposal, in particular, appears to deliver the most private investment, apartments and commercial space. And 78 of 196 units would be set aside for renters with household incomes at or below 60 percent of the Dane County median. Families of three earning up to $49,560 could qualify. Gebhardt is requesting $1.75 million in city affordable housing funds to help subsidize lower rents, which sounds reasonable.
Gebhardt is a Madison company, as is Stone House Development, which has proposed a $40 million project on the site with retail space and 159 apartments, of which 37 units would be restricted to renters with household incomes at or below 80 percent of county medium income. It is requesting $1.2 million in affordable housing funds.
The third proposal is by Mandel Group of Milwaukee, which seeks a $38.2 million project with similar retail space and 144 apartments, of which 29 would be lower cost, requiring an unspecified subsidy.
We look forward to seeing a detailed assessment of the options by city staff later this spring.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, elected to lead the city April 2, has prioritized affordable housing for working people in a city that is becoming increasingly expensive to live in. And on that front, the proposals for Judge Doyle Square seem to offer a lot, given the development’s prime location and laudable density.
City officials should prioritize the overall benefits of the project, rather than getting hung up on small design features. Despite ongoing challenges in getting Judge Doyle Square done, Madison’s Downtown and the surrounding region will benefit from a successful redevelopment of the site that keeps the heart of the city humming.