800 Block East Washington Avenue development (copy) (copy)

A motion to approve the purchase of land for a proposed public parking structure that would service the Spark and Cosmos was passed by the Board of Public Works on Wednesday. 

City of Madison

This week, Madison officials granted approvals to several aspects of a multi-building development on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, including the first step of an approval needed to create a city-owned parking structure that would be used by the development.

The development includes the Spark, home to office space for American Family Insurance and the StartingBlock collaborative entrepreneurial center, and the Cosmos, which includes plans for a 2,500-person capacity concert venue, as well as retail and office space.

The Spark and Cosmos do not have onsite parking and would rely on a proposed city parking garage across the street. The garage, known as the Capitol East District Parking Structure, is slated for the intersection of South Livingston Street and East Main Street.

A motion authorizing the execution of a purchase and sale agreement of a Madison Gas and Electric property that the city would use to construct a parking garage was introduced to the Common Council on Tuesday and passed by the Board of Public Works on Wednesday.

While the garage would be a public, city-owned parking structure, it would primarily serve the employees of the Spark and Cosmos during the day, said Matt Mikolajewski, economic development director for city.

The garage will have 600 to 650 parking stalls. The majority of those stalls would be under long-term lease to tenants in the Spark and Cosmos buildings for daytime use, with an estimated 50 stalls available for hourly parking. All parking spots would be available for hourly and special event rates during evenings and weekends.

“On evenings and weekends it would be public parking structure just like other downtown parking garages,” Mikolajewski said.

The frontage of the East Main Street side of the garage will be a commercial site, he said. 

The city is funding the purchase of the MGE land through the General Acquisition land fund, which currently has $2.2 million. The purchase price of the property, $1.2 million at $16 per square foot, will bring the balance of the fund down to $1 million.

The total estimated cost of the ramp is $16 million, $7 million of which would be funded by tax increment financing (TIF).

The parking ramp was the subject of controversy last year, with opponents arguing that there was no guarantee of available stalls for future business tenants. Others criticized the reliance on the music venue for parking revenue, as a 20-year operating model estimated that event parking would make up $300,000 of the garage’s $369,600 annual revenue.

“The city is funding a ramp for, and it’s structuring profit on, the music venue,” said Eve Paras, Orpheum general manager. “That's a big concern that the city is investing in something that relies so heavily on one development.

On Wednesday, Mikolajewski said a city-owned and operated garage represented a great benefit to the city, as it would provide opportunities for the public to park in and access the neighborhood. The city is also exploring the possibility that in the future, the garage could be horizontally expanded to accommodate additional development in the district.

The resolution passed by the Board of Public Works had two major pieces: the authorization of the purchase and sale agreement and the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding with MGE.

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Mikolajewski explained that although the property, currently used for storage, is useful to MGE, it was willing to give up the property in order to foster private development in the Capitol East District.

“They realize that there’s likely a higher and better use,” Mikolajewski explained. Consequently, “what MGE doesn’t want to see over time is the city locating new city-owned uses in the neighborhood.”

The memorandum states that if the city plans to introduce new municipal buildings into the Capitol East District, it will first contact MGE.

MGE has conducted tests and found some heavy metal contamination on the site, but at a level typical of the area and nothing that would cause significant concern, Mikolajewski said. The city has hired an environmental consultant to complete additional environmental testing, MGE has agreed to pay for some costs associated with the contamination.

The motion must also be passed by the Board of Estimates and the Transit and Parking Commission. It will then return to the Common Council for approval.

Another aspect of Gebhardt’s development at 800 E. Washington Ave., The Cosmos, received a green light from the Common Council on Tuesday night. The Council approved the theater license for a 2,500-person music venue by Frank Productions at The Cosmos and a liquor license for that venue.

The expected completion date for the Spark and Cosmos is mid-2018.

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