$100 million student apartment proposal would push out ten businesses in downtown Madison

MADISON, Wis. — A $100 million student apartment proposal for downtown Madison would force out ten businesses from the area.

Core Spaces, who oversaw the construction of downtown student high rise buildings such as The James and The Hub, is behind the plan.

“I was approached by the existing property owner of most of the parcels at some point last summer,” said District 4 Alder Mike Verveer. “I certainly thought immediately that it was an ambitious plan, considering the scale of it, considering the prime downtown location involved.”

Under the proposal, an 8-10 story apartment building, with a portion of units set aside for affordable housing, would move to the intersection of State and Gorham – directly in the heart of the State Street area.

“State street is arguably the most important street in our state, I think, with the Capitol being the reflection of the campus,” he said. “The fact that an entity wishes to invest over 100 million dollars in a development project in the heart of downtown Madison that has suffered so much from the pandemic and not to mention civil unrest of the last year, is a real helpful sign.”

Businesses forced to leave include Casa De Lara Mexican Restaurant, Kanopy Dance Company, Community Pharmacy, Canterbury Inn, Teddy’s Care Care, A Room of One’s Own bookstore, Chasers, and Red Rock Saloon.

“We knew going in to the project when we were working out the terms of the lease that it was in the lease,” said Red Rock Saloon Co-Owner Drew Deuster. “They had the option to effectively not extend our lease after the first term because I think the development proposal was always on the table.”

Deuster said he hopes to have another location secured by the summer.

“It’s certainly not ideal in terms of having to make a move and this transition,” he said. “Obviously we’ve been there seven years, and I think we’ve established our name and ourselves at the current location. We’re going to try to have some fun with it provided we can return at a different location.”

Many of the structures that would be torn down as a portion of the project have a long history in Madison.

“That block has been historic since the 1850s,” said Stu Levitan, the former chair of Madison’s Historic Landmarks Commission. “You have to preserve these historic resources. This is a historic block in the heart of the city. It’s the most important block in the city of Madison. It needs to maintain a link to its historic elements.”

Levitan said one building in particular, currently home to a Room of One’s Own, was once known as The Factory – a music venue in the 1960s that hosted shows for Jimi Hendrix, the Steve Miller Band and was set to host Otis Redding before the plane carrying him and his band crashed in Lake Monona, killing all but one person on board.

“The factory was one of the most legendary night clubs in Madison, if not the state of Wisconsin and the entire Midwest,” Levitan said. “It’s very important for the development if it goes forward to be sensitive to all of those historic elements and to understand and incorporate a sense of history.”

Verveer said he knows the importance of preserving Madison’s history, and is hopeful that the developer will work with the landmarks commission to save what they can.

“My initial concern as I articulated to the developers back in our first meeting was the concern of adverse impacts on really beloved, cherished, downtown businesses,” he said.

Core Spaces has an open meeting with the City of Madison’s Urban Design Commission on Wed Feb 10. Verveer said if plans are approved, Core Spaces could break ground by the end of 2021, with hopes of opening in time for the 2023 school year.

“We need more density in the city,” he said. “This is of course student oriented housing, I emphasized with the developers in our very first conversation and our subsequent conversations the need for an affordable housing component to this proposal.”

“If you don’t know where you’ve been, you wont know where you’re going,” Levitan said. “We need to know what the history of downtown Madison has been so that we can understand and honor our forbearers.”