Recap of the September 29th Steering Committee Meeting

On September 29th, the steering committee and interested community members met with representatives from Apex to continue the discussion about the future of the 200 Block of East Mifflin. Below is my attempt to capture the discussion. I have tried to be accurate, but it is not an attempt to be a verbatim transcription. I would confirm the accuracy of anything written here with individual it is attributed to before quoting them.

This is a fairly long post, so for those of you who just want the highlights, here are what I think is the significant new pieces of information we learned on the 29th. None of these are obviously set in stone, so a year from now don’t go saying “Apex said this in September of 2009, why are you saying this now?”, especially since I could have written it down wrong.

  • The number of units has been cut back, to about 120 instead of 140.
  • There was an implied “Could Apex include the development rights to the south side of the 200 block of E Mifflin (the side the Lamp House ison) towards the purchase price of the air rights over the McCormick ramp, and would we as a city go for that?”
  • Apex does not yet have a signed agreement for all of the properties necessary for options 1,2, or 3 (the options not on the ramp), but the agreement is written and understood in principle.
  • Apex has other development sites around the city
  • Apex tossed out some initial target targets for what a condo would cost, if they were selling it as condos: 125K for a 600 sq ft 1Bedroom, 200K for a 2 bedroom.

The meeting started 30 minutes before Apex arrived, with the committee members introducing themselves and going over some ground rules. When Apex arrived, we asked them to start out with a review of their proposal concepts, using the same material as the September 21st meeting.
The remainder of the meeting was an open discussion for about an hour and 15 minutes. The first 15 minutes were dedicated to “simple” questions that could be answered quickly, and were aimed at clarifying the proposals.

Paul Norman: Of options 1-3 [The options not on the parking ramp] Apex can obviously only do one. However, it is physically possible to build on the north [parking ramp] and south side[Lamp House side] of the block. Are you considering building on both? Bruce Bosben (Apex Chairman): Only one for now, don’t have the ability to do both projects in a short time frame. Some other group might do the other project, of course. Bruce leans towards building on land they own, Steve Yoder [Apex President] leans towards arking ramp. No true right answer, could go with whichever project the group prefers

Brenda Konkel: Parking in options 1-3 – is it all below the floorplan? Answer: Yes. Followups – How many stories down of parking? Answer: 3. Anything exposed? Answer: Hopefully not, except the entrance.

Martha Hausmann: All of the drawings seem to have the same number of floors (options 1-3). Parking ramp is different. Why are they all the same? Clarification: one option has different floors on different parts of the buildings. Parking ramp option – 7 floors from the street.

Bill Gates: Does Apex have options on the other properties (for options 1-3)? Answer: yes, Apex does. Have had previous discussions over the past five years. Is it a done deal? It remains to be seen what is going to be built. An agreement is written, but not signed, so getting fairly far along. Follow-up from Bill Gates: Who may be interested in financing this? Answer: Hard to say, things are very different than a year ago. Apex believes that things will turn around.

Gary Tipler – For the parking ramp option, the floorplan is currently an H-shape. How much flexibility is there in the floor plan to try different things like setbacks and interior lighting? Answer: Somewhat constrained by having to put the stairwells and elevators at the corner. The ramp floors are post-tension concrete and can’t be drilled through, which means verticals have to be outside of existing floorplan. The existing stairwells have to go because they don’t meet current codes. Followup: How much room for setbacks? Answer: Maybe 15 or 20 feet. Followup: Why an H shape? Answer: Just design, but doesn’t have to be to be. Followup: Could you move the stairwells? Answer: Egress [exiting the building] regulations don’t give you much flexibility.

Carol Toussaint: How does this work, processwise? Can the proposal move forward without the neighborhood process being done? Erik Paulson: Steering committee will continue to meet with Apex, ask questions, give concerns, wishes, and other feedback. Apex does not yet have enough done to start a formal proposal with the city. Steering Committee will steadily work on project, but won’t be rushed. If Apex goes to the city and steering committee isn’t done, Steering Committee will go to Alders and City Commissions (UDC/Plan/Landmarks/etc) and explain what they’re doing and ask for more time. So long as the steering committee isn’t dawdling or otherwise dragging its feet, city will almost certainly delay hearing the proposals.

Ilse Hecht: If option 4 [building on top of the parking ramp] were chosen, what would happen to the other houses on Mifflin? Bruce Bosben: We don’t know. A question for the neighborhood, would it make sense to restore those houses such that no one would try and redevelop them anytime soon? The question is if the community thinks the row of houses is worth preserving at the expense of other options for the block, then so be it. But, here’s Bruce’s opinion from studying with James Graaskamp – Downtown development has the most potential for paying for other parts of the city through increase of property taxes. Bruce’s claim: 1% of city land, in the downtown, pays 14% of property taxes. Preservation is noble, but comes with a real cost. Current buildings generate $90k in taxes. A $50 million building could generate a million dollars a year in property taxes. Steve Yoder, followup answer: Some discussion of transfer of development rights. To walk away from the development potential of that block, will the city recognize the value there? Could it be tied to the air rights? Bruce follow-up answer: Is it right for those of us today to decide for the development options for that block for future generations?

Paul Norman: Please explain the historical significance of this block. Gary Tipler: referred to article from Wisconsin History, RE: the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Lamp. FLW built a family cottage for Lamp on Lake Mendota, then designed the Lamp House for Lamp. Lamp worked on the Square, and was a paraplegic and so needed to be close by. Afterwards, Lamp started to buy the rest of the block. Moved a house over 10 feet to create the current driveway. The idea for the space: privacy for the house and greenspace. The house has hidden entrance like most FLW houses. It also has many windows and an open living layout. 3rd floor used to be views of the lake and the family cottage. Jason Tish, Exec Director of Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, adds: The Lamp House is still in very much in its original context – on much of the block, the buildings are original, though none of them individually are necessarily historic. What does the potential downtown plan have to say about these blocks? Will get information about that for the blog. Gary: [Drat, missed part of his beginning, will try and fill in] The house was an early experiment in his prairie style, one of the few remaining FLW buildings in the area. Nationally, FLW groups are interested in Madison. This is an opportunity to enhance the Lamp House as an asset to Madison and increase its value to the city. Perhaps first use of transfer of development rights in the city on this block. Brenda: The Downtown preservation plan only looked at commercial buildings in historic districts, and didn’t look at every house in downtown. It looked a few randomly around downtown. On that block, only looked at the Dance studio house [223 E Mifflin]. Gary: There is the potential for a national historic district on this block.

Paul Moriarty: Are these apartments or condos? Bruce: would prefer to initially offer them as condos, but until market stabilizes, going to have to be apartments. But, built to condo standards. Could sell some as condos right away. Followup: In buildings with high percentage units are rentals, it can be difficult to get financing for a condo. Bruce: Believes that is true mostly in existing buildings.

Paul Soglin (Apex Consultant): what historic studies are we talking about? Jason Tish– the 97 study by Kitty Rankin. Brenda Konkel: the study reviewed the commercial buildings in the historic districts, but they went a bit beyond that, reviewed some houses. Brenda will look for the report [And Erik will link to it when he finds it]

Martha Hausmann: The tire shop on the corner of Webster and Washington, would it be affected? Bruce: no

Paul Norman: McCormick ramp was originally designed for extra floors, yes? Has the city decided that we don’t need public parking? They did decide that in 1996, but would now we would have to restart that process. Paul Soglin: On council at the time it was built, original idea was to put four ramps around the Square at the corners. It was never imagined that it have extra parking added, always hoped it would be housing. Economically can’t build parking ramps for maximum their maximum utilization anymore. This ramp is lowest utilization in the downtown, especially after Alliant pulled out. Parking ramps never make money.

Paul Lorenz: Has Apex or Iconica ever had projects this big? Iconica, yes, this would be a new one for Apex. Iconica: resort projects in the Dells and Chicago, commercial buildings in Madison.

Bill Gates: Apex threw out a number, $50 million – is that a reasonable number? Bruce Bosben: Maybe. Steve Yoder: waiting to decide more about the design and concept of the project before budgeting, so not really sure. Bill: How much time in between projects? [Note: not options 1/2/3 and option 4 projects, but time between hotel project and this project] Bruce Bosben: a year or two. Bill Gates: Views are worth a lot, as James Graaskamp taught us. Options 1,2,3 impact view of Lake Monona. The height here seems only to come from one corner, ignores the other corners. Why not try to acquire the rest of the block and try a different building? Steve Yoder: Chicken and Egg problem: can’t give budget numbers until the design is more hammered out, but people want to know budgets early. Bruce Bosben: Apex has 9 developable sites in Madison, started to propose ideas 8 or 9 years ago. Made the mistake of coming forward with designs, thinking that’s how it made sense. Therefore, resolved that not going to do anything other than come up with a shape and paint a design on it to make it clear it’s a building. Come with minimal design and see what consensus the group comes up with.

Martha Hausmann: Are you concerned about vacant new constructions in the downtown area? In the last five years, many buildings have gone up, many are looking for tenants. Bruce Bosben: Wonders can we find actual numbers for that. Apex has 1200 units, maybe 4 vacancies. Manage 13 or 14 condo associations, but not many of those have vacant units. But, Lorraine has vacant units, as does Nolen Shores, Cap West. Targeting a different price point: Maybe 1 bedrooms, 600 square foot units, $125K. 2 bedrooms for $200K. Idea is to make money while being part of the solution. Steve Yoder: Nothing will happen unless the bank believes the story, too. We won’t get a PUD unless they can get financing for the project, the City wants to avoid another Hilldale. [ A PUD is a Planned Unit Development, one of the most important authorizations from the city needed to build the project. A PUD basically creates a special zoning district that is just big enough for the project to fit into. Virtually every significant development in Madison has an associated PUD.] Bert Stitt (Apex consultant): rental market is different from downtown condos. McGraths rented out in Bassett, McBride Point rented out. Madison’s aliveness depends on people living downtown. More people means more support for business

Jeff Sims: What other development sites are you considering? Bruce Bosben: Hotel on Wilson, Yaraha River site, a site straddling Gilman and Gorham to refurbish old mansions and fill in a vacant lot. Also, 600 Block of East Johnson, the ugly red brick building. The two most prominent sites are the Mifflin site and Wilson St. Not vacant land, but underutilized.

Paul Soglin: Takes different view, more than just tax dollars. Referred to black infant mortality in Madison, which has declined to be even less than white infant mortality. Corresponding to that decline is a decline in premature infants. If you take over the last five years the infants that we had expected to be born have been premature but weren’t, who would have been hospitalized for the first two months of their lives but didn’t need to be, it saved $7.2 million. That does not take into account subsequent extra costs that preemies incur as older children. Probably the reason for the decline: south Madison health center, which provided increase in access to social services. 2 months ago, WSJ suggested that city cut back on social services. If you look at Madison budget, we spend more on our social services than other cities. The reason we can support that is a growing tax base. Single family home developments: most costly from a tax perspective, consumes most basic services (snowplowing, fire stations, etc) per unit. The denser developments proportionally capture more taxes per service. Bruce Bosben: underground parking is only financially supported by development in the central business district, growing taller. Bert Stitt: this could be the impetus for the James Madison Park District to get serious about a neighborhood plan. Lack of a plan makes the district vulnerable.


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