A community meeting intended to begin the neighborhood vetting process on a proposed new development in the 500 block of State Street took place last night with a full room of about 75 attendees in the Pyle Center. "It's great to see this turnout," said Ald. Mike Verveer, in whose downtown district the new retail and residential building would be sited.
Talks on the proposal, which became public only within the last week, are happening quickly not necessarily to accommodate the developer, explained Verveer, but to take place before UW-Madison semester-end events and finals so students can also participate in the process.
Next the plans for the development, to be called "The Hub," by the Mullins Group and Core Campus of Chicago, will be presented to the city's Urban Design Commission, initially on May 8 and in a more detailed state on May 22. Currently it is scheduled to come before the Common Council on Aug. 6.
Because of the accelerated timeline, there are many details of the building's design that have not yet been decided on, and the design team will be working to complete those details before the presentations to the city.
The project is intended to take better advantage of "underutilized" and "underperforming" space on and adjacent to State Street, including a large parking lot -- "the last parking lot on State Street" as Brian Munson, who works on neighborhood design for Vandewalle & Associates of Madison, called it -- between Kabul and Roast Public House and stretching back to West Gilman Street.
Jeff Zelisko of Antunovich Associates architects of Chicago presented a slideshow that illustrated the developers' thinking about the project. "It has to fit in with the rest of State Street in size and scale," said Zelisko. To that end, one-, two-, three- and four-story "elements" will alternate along the State Street frontage, much as other blocks have varied height and styled buildings sited next to each other. Storefronts here might be one, four, two, one, and four stories in a row, for instance. Plans are to incorporate the 529 State St. facade (currently Roast Public House), with its "beautiful terra cotta" ornamentation, as one of the lower-storied elements of the streetscape.
Retail will remain on State Street. The entrance to the parking garage area will be "hidden" and open on to West Gilman Street. The lobby entrance for the apartments will be on North Frances Street. Residential areas will be set back from State and rise to 12 stories; a courtyard will separate two main wings.
Also on North Frances will be space that could be configured as more retail or as "town homes" -- possibly condos. There will be dedicated space for moped and bicycle parking, but units will also have bike-hanging hooks built right in, as developers have found that residents bring their bikes into their units anyway.
Exercise and other "amenity spaces" such as study rooms and common areas will overlook State Street. A swimming pool terrace is planned for the 12th floor.
Much study has been given to how the shadow of the building will fall across State Street, and Zelisko said it will not fall onto the buildings across the street. The building would also not impede the view of the Capitol from Bascom Hill.
Audience members asked questions and expressed concerns and priorities about the project. These included: the need to "activate" West Gilman Street and not treat it as a back alley; the desire to create more affordable housing for students instead of luxury units in the campus area; and, the potential of retail rents increasing so much that locally-owned restaurants and other businesses will be unable to remain.
The developers intend rents to be "market rate," and are asking for no TIF funds from the city; no units are earmarked as "affordable." A more modern development with a higher density of residential above it should command higher retail rent and support businesses around the area as well, they said. One possibility mentioned regarding affordable housing is that the influx of renters into the new development may end up forcing rents lower in older area rentals.
While representatives of the new project expressed their desire to make it fit the "character" and "rhythm" of State Street, several of those commenting from the audience suggested that the concept of a "highly amenitized" building conflicts with what is most appealing about State Street. "You call this area 'underperforming,'" commented one attendee who identified herself as a resident of the Williamson Street neighborhood. "To me, this is where State Street performs."
Positive audience reaction came from a man who said his wife owns a Library Mall food cart and thought the proximity of the large number of residents could be a boon to hers and others' businesses; and a renter who had always wanted to live on State Street but was deterred by the older flats that were available.
Core Campus stresses that all of its developments are different and can't really be compared with each other. However a video for its current project in Tempe, Arizona, at Arizona State University, shows similar amenities as described for the State Street Hub. (All of Core Campus' projects are called "The Hub.")
"We understand that today's needs for student housing should not be compared to what our residents' parents had. Or even their older siblings," reads an online introduction to the Hub at ASU. "Times are different. Hub is different. The Hub doesn't wonder whether or not our residents need access to tanning beds in the middle of the desert. We simply say, why shouldn't they."
Volunteers are being sought to participate in a steering committee on the development; committee members do not have to live in the neighborhood. Those interested should contact Ald. Verveer at 608-255-6498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.