A city committee recently endorsed a plan to renovate the 800 block of East Washington Avenue despite disagreements within the city’s governing officials over the most cost-effective use of the area.
Aaron Olver, Madison’s director of economic development, said the proposed plan by developer Urban Land Interests calls for extensive commercial development in the area.
The ULI development proposal has four components that include two office buildings of approximately 140,000 square feet, an apartment building that includes 76 units and a parking structure that would be surrounded by townhouses, according to Olver.
“What [the administration] is trying to do is work to bring the employers of the future back to the Capitol East District and recreate it as an employment center for tomorrow,” Olver said.
The two office buildings will be diverse in their use, according to Tom Neujahr, one of the principals of ULI. The first floor will primarily be used for retail, while the second through fourth floors will be employed for office space.
The ULI development, Olver said, would provide a positive effect on the Capitol East District, which historically played a large role in Madison’s employment center. In the last four or five decades, there has been a lack of reinvestment in the area, which has resulted in factories moving elsewhere, according to Olver.
Olver said in general the community has responded positively to the ULI proposal and others that call for reconstructing the Capitol East District.The proposal has also gained approval from Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.
Still, Ald. Bridget Maniaci, District 2, repeatedly has spoken out against the proposal, which is slated for construction in her district. She said the proposal is mainly concerned with office development, which the neighborhood plan and the city planning process for the corridor deemed was to be located elsewhere. She also said the plan has not received universal support from the neighborhood.
Maniaci’s alternative proposal calls for the city to engage in another round of processes to find a new developer. Rifkin-Irgens, two companies who are working together in hopes of developing land on the south side of the block, have told the city it would be no longer interested in doing so if ULI’s proposal is accepted for the north block because of a direct competition in the area, Maniaci said.
“Even if the City Council were to accept the mayor’s recommendation to go with Urban Land Interests, there’s implications for what we would then do with the south block,” she said.
Maniaci also said the timeline of construction is a major concern. Although the high volume of construction has been cited as a concern, Neujahr said it is consistent with any other developmental project.
“There is not going to be any development, no matter who does it, that is going to be accomplished in a single lightning bolt,” Neujahr said.
The north side of the 800 block of East Washington Avenue is just one of three parcels of land that the city holds and is looking to develop, Olver said. Other development ambitions include a residential project that may start as soon as this summer, he said.