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Plan Commission approves $43 million State Street hotel

September 18, 2018

Despite a negative recommendation from city staff, the Madison Plan Commission on Monday approved the demolition of four buildings and construction of a $43 million, nine-story boutique hotel on the 100 block of State Street.

The commission, hearing broad community support for the project and its potential to revitalize upper State Street, overwhelmingly approved Ascendant Holdings’ proposal to demolish all or part of four vacant commercial buildings at 118-126 State St. for a 133-room hotel with a first-floor restaurant and tavern and rooftop lounge.

“The Downtown Plan recognizes we need projects that increase the vitality of the Downtown area,” commission member Brad Cantrell said in moving to approve the project after three hours of testimony and discussion. “This project, I believe, is a transformational project.”

Ald. Ledell Zellers, 2nd District, cast the lone no vote.

All the project needs now is a zoning change, which the City Council will consider on Sept. 25.

The hotel, proposed three years ago, would meet the four-story height limit on State Street and step up to nine stories at the rear of the block that faces North Carroll and West Dayton streets. The ninth floor would also be smaller to make it less visible from the street below.

But the 107-foot building would exceed the 88-foot limit allowed on most of the site and surrounding block.

A range of city commissions have given final or preliminary approval to the project, but city Planning Division staff declined to support the plan because the structure would exceed the six-floor limit outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Plan and a Downtown plan adopted in 2012.

Plan Commission members offered questions about height, traffic management and the lack of on-site parking, loading challenges on a tight site, windows on some interior facades, and more.

The four-story facade, which preserves the facade of two existing buildings, fits the character of State Street, while the rest of the structure steps back and anchors the opposite corner, said Ascendant’s architect, Ken Gowland of Metrostudio KKAD.

The hotel will use valet parking with access to ample spaces in the surrounding area, and will work with neighbors to make loading as efficient as possible, project team members said.

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, who represents the site, offered a strong endorsement of the project despite a reluctance to differ with the city’s professional staff and exceed the height limit.

“The top of State Street needs a tremendous shot in the arm,” he said. “Desperate times deserve desperate measures. I really believe we have to make this work.”

More than 25 people spoke in favor of the project, highlighting the aesthetic and economic impact of the hotel and its promise to energize upper State Street and transform the area, which has become a gathering spot for the homeless and sometimes attracts crime and other negative behaviors.

“It’s a world-class hotel,” said Nick Martin, owner of Ian’s Pizza, 100 State St. “We’re looking at boarded-up windows and doors being used as urinals.”

Sam Chehade, longtime owner of Michelangelo’s coffee house, 114 State St., added, “I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Downtown area. This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve seen. It will be good for the block. It will be good for the Downtown.”

The range of community support, both from speakers and in letters to the commission, included the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downtown Madison Inc., Overture Center, Frank Productions, Food Fight Restaurant Group, 100 block property owners, organized labor and the nearby, 13-story Concourse Hotel, the city’s largest, at 1 W. Dayton St.

Peter Ostlind, chair of a steering committee on the project for the local neighborhood association, Capitol Neighborhoods Inc., said residents have offered support for the use and the hotel’s architecture and financial impact, but they have concerns about violating the height limit and the lack of guarantees on how the valet parking system will work. “The verification of the (parking) plan isn’t here,” he said.

But another steering committee member said the project will revitalize the State Street block most in need of help and the hotel will bear the burden of making valet parking work.

Only one person spoke against the project, voicing concern about violating the height limit.

The hotel would be operated by Provenance Hotels of Portland, Oregon, and feature an art collection, the ground-floor restaurant and rooftop lounge.

“We create properties that are really unique to the community,” Provenance president Bashar Wali said. “We love communities like this that are really forward thinking.”

Ascendant says it would support 70 full-time positions as well as 95 jobs during construction.

If approved, construction would begin in the spring and last until the fall of 2020.

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