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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 3.0° F  Fair
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East Washington site big enough for both ULI and Metcalfe's proposals?

Suddenly, it seems, everybody wants to build on East Washington Avenue.

The city bought the old Don Miller car dealership in 2010 for $5.8 million, hoping to encourage revitalization. Last year, it reviewed six bids for proposals on the site and selected three, including one from Urban Land Interests for the north side of the 800 block of East Washington. The ULI proposal includes 160,000 square feet of commercial space, 40,000 square feet of which would be utilized by high-tech companies. It also proposes 85 apartments, 400 parking spaces and possibly a grocery store.

Since then, the three proposals have each progressed at different paces.

But last month, Metcalfe's Market threw a monkey wrench into the process by proposing another project on the block that ULI wants to use. The company proposes a hotel, grocery store with a rooftop farm, and townhouses. The plan has been popular with the neighborhood and city development staff.

Earlier this month, Ald. Bridget Maniaci, who represents the district, stirred the pot by encouraging constituents to pressure the council to reconsider the ULI project. Maniaci says she's frustrated by the speed of the negotiations. "We should be at a point where we agree on terms or we don't agree," she says. "For it to be hung in limbo is unfortunate."

A sticking point in the negotiations with ULI is how long it will take to build the entire block out. The developer proposed to take 10 years; the city wants something quicker, says Aaron Olver, Madison's director of economic development.

But Olver says this isn't necessarily an either/or proposition; there is plenty of room on East Washington for both projects.

Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway says the city needs to let the negotiations with ULI play out before restarting the process. She also says the ULI proposal better meets what the city is looking for in the corridor.

"The purpose of the Capitol East district is to create good jobs," she says. "Last I checked, a hotel and grocery store are not good jobs. I wish they were."

Olver says the two other projects proposed on the Don Miller site are moving ahead at varying speeds. Gebhardt's $31.5 million proposal (PDF) for apartments, lofts, retail and office space on the 700 block is moving quickest, with the company now seeking land-use and TIF approvals from the city.

A proposal (PDF) by the Rifken Group and Eppstein Uhen Architects for a mix of office and retail space is moving the slowest, with the company reevaluating the project, Olver says.

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