The massive project on two city blocks, adjacent to Monona Terrace, includes replacing the city's Government East parking garage with underground parking, a headquarters hotel to complement Monona Terrace, and retail, housing and office space. The cost will likely exceed $200 million, including a city subsidy ranging from $25 to $50 million.
Two developers are in the running for the project, JDS Development and the Journeyman Group. Tuesday night the council approved requesting a formal bid from both of them.
The council had previously decided it wanted to keep the Municipal Building -- a national, state and local landmark built in 1929 -- for city offices. But JDS Development had pitched the idea of using the building for a hotel, with a ground-floor food court and a rooftop restaurant.
Ald. Mark Clear thinks the idea has potential and proposed an amendment allowing both developers flesh out plans that include the building.
"Having that property back on the tax rolls would add a lot of value," he told his colleagues.
Clear argued that the city will soon have to renovate the Municipal Building anyway, and that the effort could prove more costly than building new city offices.
Ald. Scott Resnick agreed, noting that renovation estimates at $300 a square foot for an 80,000-square-foot building would be $24 million. "The reality is I don't see us coming to a point where we're going to be able to afford to do both Judge Doyle Square and the [renovation] of the Municipal Building."
But Ald. Mike Verveer urged the council not to change course. Allowing developers to use the Municipal Building would cost the city precious time and money. "If we make the decision to leave this open, we're only setting ourselves up for delay and more cost. It certainly will raise the cost of the Judge Doyle Square project."
Verveer noted that as far back as 1927 the council voted to preserve the block for civic purposes.
Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff said the project needs to move forward soon in order to provide more hotel rooms for Monona Terrace.
"There is a sense of urgency for Monona Terrace's sake to have this project move forward," she said, adding, "Any developer that includes this in their project is going to ask us for a lot of additional financial support."
Clear's amendment failed on a 9-to-10 vote. The council then unanimously approved asking for detailed bids for the project.
The two developers will have until the end of September to produce proposals. The city is slated to contract next year for more detailed renovation designs for the Municipal Building. It will also craft a plan of where to temporarily move city offices.