The Municipal Building is in disrepair and needs to be renovated.
Ald. Mark Clear wants the city to keep its options open. He wants the Common Council to at least consider turning the Madison Municipal Building into a hotel with a food court and restaurants, rather than keeping it for city offices.
The Common Council will vote Tuesday night on the request for proposals for Judge Doyle Square. A committee has already vetted four rough proposals for the massive project on two city blocks, adjacent to Monona Terrace. The project includes numerous components, including replacing the city's Government East parking garage with underground parking, a headquarters hotel to complement Monona Terrace, along with retail, housing and office space. The cost will likely exceed $200 million, including a city subsidy ranging from $25 to $50 million.
One of the two development groups still in the running, JDS Development (a partnership that includes Hammes Company, which is now renovating the Edgewater Hotel), would like to use the Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., for its hotel. The ground floor would be a public food market and hotel lobby, while the upper floors would have hotel rooms and a rooftop restaurant. In its proposal (PDF), JDS argues: "The renovated Madison Municipal Building will be a core landmark with historical significance complementing the nationally recognized Monona Terrace and State Capitol buildings."
But the current working plan (PDF), approved by a city committee, is to keep the Municipal Building as city offices. The developers will have until the end of September to submit more detailed plans, along with whatever financial assistance they want.
The Journeyman Group has already outlined what it wants in its proposal (PDF): $9 million from the city's parking utility; $18.8 million from city revenue bonds for the city-owned and operated parking elements; $25.8 million in tax-increment financing bonds issued for the hotel, retail, office, residential and private parking elements; and $4.4 million to fund a financial gap that the company's preliminary estimates indicate could be needed for a full-service Marriott.
Clear says he isn't dead set on using the Municipal Building for a hotel but says, "I want to see what the developers will propose and leave it to them to decide the best option."
The Municipal Building is in disrepair and needs to be renovated. "One of the things we don't understand is what is the cost to rehabilitating the Municipal Building for city offices," Clear says. "It's possible it could exceed the cost for moving city offices."
Ald. Mike Vereer, who is on the Judge Doyle Square Committee, remains unswayed by Clear's argument. The committee voted to keep the Municipal Building as city offices.
"The bottom line is I think the project would be delayed, perhaps substantially, and cost more if we went with the more complicated notion of converting the Municipal Building into a hotel," he says. "We'd have to wait for replacement city meeting and office space to be found, be it temporary or permanent. That will take time and money."
Verveer adds, "I have a deep concern about converting a historic building that throughout our history has been a civic building to one of a private development. It was built as a public building. The city is in great need of convenient space adjacent to the City County Building. And I think it would be a shame to lose that."
But Clear says the desire to keep the Municipal Building for civic space is "mostly driven by nostalgia. City Hall has moved several times over the course of Madison's history," he says. "It could potentially move again."