As plans for the Judge Doyle Square Project near finalization, city members are concerned whether the amount of money invested into the project will be returned.
The project will be a significant undertaking in 2015 to transform the blocks that currently house the Madison Municipal Building and the Government East Parking Garage, on the block between Martin Luther King Boulevard, King, Doty and Wilson Streets.
Project Director George Austin said the large size of the investment has been a top concern for the committee. He said the proposed density of the developments is significant, including additional hotel rooms, apartments, offices, parking and retail. This parking and multi-story building project is expensive and drives a need for public investment, he said.
Mayor Paul Soglin said his main concern with the project is the ratio of the public investment to the return on that investment. He said while many of the project costs are known, it is unknown what any of the returns could be.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said one of his biggest concerns with increasing affordability is the cost of underground parking. He said he proposed building a parking ramp above ground instead that would wrapped in retail space so the parking is not clearly visible.
“In a perfect world, we had hoped to have all of the parking built underground,” Verveer said. “However the cost of underground versus above ground parking is substantially more expensive.”
Verveer said another way the committee hopes to reduce the high cost is to downsize the amount of function space. He said one of the developers was looking to have a full service hotel ballroom along with other function and meeting rooms. Verveer said he supported the idea to reduce the amount of function space in the new hotel to bring down the cost.
Austin said he hopes this project will enliven the area that is currently “pretty desolate,” continuing the vibrant entertainment district that is only a block away in the King Street area.
“We have a vibrant Capitol Square, a thriving entertainment district along King Street. We have Monona Terrace on the lake, then you have these two city blocks that are basically empty,” Austin said. “They’re dark, there isn’t activity. The idea is to extend that entertainment district.”
Verveer said part of the project includes building residential and office buildings on the block where the Government East Parking Garage currently sits.
Soglin said he thinks this project could be a potential boost to tax revenues and could draw more visitors to Madison.
“It will provide us with growth on the property tax as well as county and sales tax revenues and additional hotel room space that we need at peak times of the year,” Soglin said.
Verveer, who is also a member of the Monona Terrace Board, said he knows Monona does not compete well for many conventions and conferences because of a lack of hotel rooms within walking distance. He said drawing convention and conference goers to Madison is one way the square can improve the economic development of downtown Madison.
Verveer said construction for Judge Doyle Square would begin in 2015, so the project would be a key item in the 2015 city budget, which will be considered by City Council in the fall of 2014.
Final recommendations will be made to City Council Monday night.