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Wednesday, October 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 58.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Madison panel not ready to select either Judge Doyle Square proposal
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The committee emphasizes that it wants the Madison Municipal Building to remain as city offices.
Credit:Joe Tarr

For months, a city committee has been evaluating proposals from two developers for the massive Judge Doyle Square project, which includes a luxury hotel, parking, offices and retail on a two block area in downtown Madison next to Monona Terrace.

On Thursday night, as the committee was supposed to be nearing a recommendation for the Common Council, it decided neither proposal was that attractive. "There's no shining star," said committee chair, Adam Plotkin.

Instead, the group decided to ask the two developers -- Journeyman Group from Texas and JDS Development (headed by Wisconsin's Bob Dunn) -- what it thought about tweaking their proposals in a number of ways.

Journeyman Group proposes a $179 million project that city staff estimates would require direct and indirect public investment at $91 million. JDS originally offered two options, but its preferred proposal would convert the Madison Municipal Building into a headquarters hotel with restaurants and a food emporium, and move the city agencies into office space it would build. This would cost $159 million and require $83 million in public aid. City staff has suggested alternate financing methods that would require as much as $113 million in public investment.

Following the lead of Ald. Mike Verveer, who sits on the committee, the group wants the developers to respond to ideas it has for changing the scope of Judge Doyle Square.

Verveer said he doesn't believe any of the proposals as currently imagined are likely to get approval from the Common Council, given the increasing opposition to it.

"My number one priority is recommending something that the Common Council can approve," he said after the meeting. "Based on my years of experience in city hall, I'm very confident that none of the three proposals could be embraced by Common Council."

Verveer said his main concern is the high cost. But he also wants to limit the amount of meeting and function space allowed in the headquarters hotel to prevent the hotel from stealing business away from Monona Terrace. "Why do we have to have a luxury hotel?" Verveer said. "Our main goal is an iron clad 250-room block for Monona Terrace. Why do we really need a hotel with all sorts of bells and whistles"?

Overall, Verveer told the committee, his intent is to "downsize the project."

But both developers have suggested elements that the committee likes. Verveer lined out a series of nine points -- which the committee agreed to, with slight clarifications -- it wants the developers to respond to.

The developers had originally been asked to develop underground parking to replace the Government East ramp, but JDS had proposed above ground parking, because it's much cheaper. The committee now believes that's the better approach and wants developers to move in that direction. The panel also insists on staggering the construction of parking, so that some parking is available throughout the project (Journeyman had proposed a plan that would leave the area without parking for several months).

The committee wants developers to limit the amount of public investment for the block where the Government East is to parking only -- their current proposals ask for financial help in developing other aspects, including offices and a bike center. And it wants the developers to limit the amount of meeting space in the hotel.

The committee is also emphasizing to developers that it wants the Madison Municipal Building to remain as city offices, essentially rejecting Dunn's preferred option. There has been some support from city staff and the Common Council for his proposal to turn the Municipal Building into a hotel, believing it makes better use of the building and activates Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Earlier in the evening, the committee heard a presentation from the city's engineering staff and Isthmus Architecture showing how the building could be kept for civic use, but still be more active and engaging to the public. The preliminary cost of renovating the building is estimated at just under $26 million.

The report showed examples of how city halls in other cities include spaces for art galleries, performances, lectures and some revenue-generating spaces, such as cafes and halls that can be rented out for parties and weddings. "We believe that a hotel is not the only way to enliven the corridor," said Jeanne Hoffman, the city's facilities manager. She also told the committee that the space is adequate to house the city agencies currently located there.

"Will it work for us in the long term? The answer is yes," she said, adding: "It would be one of the nicest places to work if you're a city employee."

The committee is hoping to get additional information from the developers in the next few days. Its next scheduled meeting is Feb. 3, when it had been expected to make a final recommendation. Plotkin said he still thinks this is possible. He said he didn't want the developers to completely redo their proposals.

"What I'm looking for isn't necessarily specifics," he said, "It's a willingness to adapt the proposals."

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