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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fair
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Landmarks holds off on 100 block decision
Commission wants two more weeks to ponder fate of Schubert and Fairchild buildings
Should the Schubert building be saved?
Should the Schubert building be saved?

In a Monday meeting that stretched past midnight, the Landmarks Commission heard hours of comments on the proposal for the 100 block of State Street, but put off deciding on the project's most controversial aspect: whether to allow demolition of the historic Schubert building, 120 W. Mifflin St., and its treasured neighbor, the Fairchild/Stark building, at the corner of Mifflin and Fairchild Streets.

Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland - benefactors of the Overture Center - have been buying up the buildings across from Overture for the past decade. They have proposed a $10 million project that would involve razing five buildings and renovating another. A four-story office building and private plaza would be constructed on Fairchild Street facing the Overture Center. The faades on State Street would be re-created. The historic landmark the Castle & Doyle Building, 125 State St., would be slightly altered but largely preserved.

Several people criticized the plan at Monday night's meeting, saying it destroyed the historic character of the block and would fail to do what its developers intended: reinvigorate the area.

Henry Doane, who has been involved with several downtown businesses in historic buildings, including the Blue Marlin, the Tornado Room and the Orpheum Theatre, told the commission, "This project is the wrong kind of urban renewal. It's an attempt to sterilize an urban environment."

Others supported the project, saying that the Fairchild and Mifflin Street sides of the block need help and that cities are always evolving. Maria Milsted, whose family owns the other half of the 100 block, including the iconic Teddywedgers building, told the commission, "I'm tired of living in blight."

City staff have recommended against tearing down the Schubert building. The developers made a point-by-point rebuttal and argued that the Schubert building, built by Ferdinand Kronenberg in 1908, isn't all that significant, either in relation to other Queen Anne buildings or because of the architect. "This building is not the only [Queen Anne style] example on State Street," said project architect Eric Lawson.

Project manager George Austin asked the Landmarks Commission to decide on the fate of the Schubert building Monday night, so the developers could determine their next step. But commission chair Stuart Levitan said the commission needed more time. It will meet again in two weeks.

"This is the most important decision facing downtown since the construction of the Overture Center and the State Street pedestrian mall," Levitan told Austin. "You've been working on it for years. We need more than one night."

Speaking confidentially

Ald. Bridget Maniaci has been vigorously campaigning against a proposal (PDF) by a Madison couple, David Waugh and Bob Klebba, to buy the Collins House at James Madison Park from the city and run it as a bed-and-breakfast, as it was years ago.

The couple have opposed Maniaci politically. But she contends that she's against their proposal because another one - to keep the Collins House as a single-family residence - would better preserve the historic building. The bed-and-breakfast project has been working its way through city committees and seems destined for a battle at the Common Council.

In making her case, Maniaci set off alarm bells with the city attorney's office. Before the Plan Commission last week, Maniaci said she'd looked at room tax rates from when the Collins House last operated and was concerned about whether two B&Bs could operate successfully so close together (the Livingston Inn is nearby, and its owners oppose the project).

As an elected official, Maniaci has the power to review hotel tax returns, but the city is obligated by state law to keep the records confidential.

"It gives a lot of detailed financial information about how many people stayed at the hotel and what they paid," explains city attorney Mike May. "That includes quite a bit of confidential private information that competitors don't want laid out in public."

May stops short of saying Maniaci violated any laws, but he wishes she'd handled the situation differently. "If you want to see this information, staff can summarize it for you and it won't have the actual numbers," he says. "If you really think everybody's got to see the real numbers, we'll have to have a closed session, and we'll lay those numbers out."

Maniaci says there was confusion over what she was allowed to say about the figures, but she believes the information is important. When the Board of Estimates takes up the project, she might ask for a closed session.

"It's real live data about having two nearly identical business models operating three doors apart," she says. "Clearly it's relevant financial information."

Will scandal hurt donations?

John Chadima, senior associate athletic director, resigned over allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward a student employee during a Rose Bowl party.

But perhaps the bigger question for UW-Madison is whether it should be hosting keggers with donor money at events like the Rose Bowl. And will the scandal hurt donations to the athletic department, which uses them to fund student scholarships and build facilities, among other things?

One donor to the UW athletic department is not concerned that donor money funds parties. Curt Brink, owner of the Brink Lounge, says, "It doesn't bother me. Parties are how you reward donors."

He is confident that the scandal is being handled properly, and it won't deter him from donating more money. Says Brink: "I have confidence in the athletic board that if somebody abused the system, they will take care of it."

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