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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 56.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Marriott hotel developer for old Pahl Tire site says parking and traffic issues are solvable
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Hotel guests would load and unload on North Webster Street.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

A second developer is taking a crack at building a hotel on the old Pahl Tire site on the outer loop of Capital Square, at the corner of East Washington Avenue and North Webster Street. But the developer, North Central Group, is running into the same obstacles: parking and traffic.

North Central is proposing a 10-story Marriott Courtyard on the property, with 150 rooms and a top-floor restaurant. Dennis Lynch, director of development and construction for the company, which operates two other Marriotts in Madison, told a neighborhood meeting at Madison College on Wednesday night, that he's excited about the project, but admits it poses challenges.

"It's a unique piece of property that can be developed into something really special," he told a group of about 20 neighbors. He added that the rooftop restaurant could be a great attraction. "With that view, you'll be able to see both lakes and the Capitol -- it's phenomenal."

He said after the meeting that the company doesn't yet have a cost estimate for the project. Asked why the company took on the project, after another developer failed, Lynch said: "It's in the right place. It relates to the Capitol well." But he added, "I wish it was more land. It's an extremely tight space."

Almost a year ago, the Alexander Company announced similar plans for a hotel on the site.

That company gave up on the project. Alexander wanted to park all of the cars off-site, using valets who would drive the cars to the city's nearby Capitol Square North garage.

North Central is trying to address the parking concerns by providing some parking on-site. It proposes 40 to 50 spaces on two levels underneath the hotel. The company is able to provide the underground parking, in part, by extending the lot. It has an option to buy 15 N. Webster, where there is a house that it would raze. That would allow the hotel to move the underground garage entrance farther away from the East Washington intersection.

For the rest of its parking, the hotel would rent another 60 spaces from the city at either Capitol Square North or the city's Brayton lot.

Hotel guests would load and unload on North Webster Street, in front of the hotel, where valets would take some cars to the lots. There would be space for about seven cars to queue up in front of the hotel. Lynch said that based on its studies, about 70% of its guests will be driving in -- meaning it will need about 105 spaces for 150 rooms.

"We will be able to satisfy the demands for our parking," Lynch told the crowd. "It will take about five minutes to clear a car" from in front of the hotel.

But a bigger stumbling block could be traffic. Many residents had concerns that hotel guests would be adding to congestion that already occurs on Webster. Some worried about bicycling safety, noting that Mifflin Street at the end of the block is a bicycle route that crosses Webster. They worried about hotel guests opening car doors into the bike lane on Webster.

"We've seen 12-car pile-ups on Webster," a neighbor, Bill Gates, told the group, but added, "I do appreciate your attempts to deal with the issues that concern us a lot."

Others were alarmed that the plan calls for trucks to back in and out on Webster for deliveries. Lynch estimated there would be one truck coming each day, either before or after lunch, but avoiding rush hour and early morning deliveries.

The developers admit that traffic is a potentially crippling issue. "If we don't get by the [city] traffic department, the project will die," said Nathan Wautier, an attorney representing North Central. "What we're waiting for is traffic to tell us what needs to be done. We're hoping to get feedback from them soon."

Ald. Ledell Zellers, who represents the neighborhood and called the meeting, said since the developer is looking to use planned development zoning, it will need approval from the Urban Design Commission, the Plan Commission and the Common Council. It will also need to get an opinion from the Landmarks Commission, because of the site's proximity to the historic Lamp House.

The company has yet to submit any applications. Lynch said that if everything goes well, the company would have its approvals by June and construction would take a year and a half, with the hotel opening at the end of 2015.

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