A developer is proposing a $30 million to $50 million housing project near the Capitol Square that might involve demolitions and building next to or moving a landmark Frank Lloyd Wright house.
But the developer, Apex Enterprises, is also exploring a deal with the city that would save houses on the 200 block of East Mifflin Street and put housing above a city parking garage across the street.
In a tough economy and saturated condo market Downtown, Apex would initially rent units built to condominium standards and sell them later.
The proposals, which would create about 120 housing units, are meeting resistance from historic preservationists who want to protect the Wright house and single-family home scale of East Mifflin Street and from owners at the Capitol Point condos at 125 N. Hamilton St., who would lose views under the parking garage option.
Apex, based in Madison and one of the city's largest owners and managers of rental property, is working with interested parties to see if a plan can be ironed out.
"We are very, very early in the process," Apex President Steve Yoder said, adding that revised plans could be ready in a month. "We're trying to come to some understanding with the neighborhood .... We believe it's very realistic to get something done."
It won't be easy.
"If there's a Frank Lloyd Wright house involved, that's going to trump all other things," said Ald. Bridget Maniaci, 2nd District. "The parking ramp idea has some potential. But they're going to have to answer basic questions about what's structurally possible on the site and then start dealing with neighborhood issues."
Erik Paulson, chairman of a neighborhood steering committee, said residents want to protect the Wright house and are "pretty negative" about demolishing or moving homes. But there is some interest in doing something with the parking structure, he said.
"Everybody wants to avoid something that pits half the neighborhood against the other," he said.
The proposal is Apex's second big initiative in recent months.
In July, Apex proposed a $100 million mixed-use project on Lake Monona with a hotel that could serve Monona Terrace.
Apex is still refining plans for that effort, which includes a 14-story, 450,000-square-foot building with a 300-room hotel, fitness center and pool, meeting space, housing units, restaurants, a grocery store and mostly underground parking.
"I find it hard to believe that they'll be able to simultaneously execute two projects of the scale they're proposing," Maniaci said.
Apex, which owns or has control of eight houses on the 200 block of East Mifflin Street and on North Webster and North Butler streets near James Madison Park - including Wright's three-story, 1903 Lamp House at 22 N. Butler St. - could start the housing project in about a year, Yoder said. Apex is working with Iconica, a design and planning firm, on the project, he said.
The hotel project could begin in 2011, Yoder said.
Apex has offered four ideas for a 110-to-120 unit condo project, all including a small park with a Frank Lloyd Wright visitor center in a preserved Lamp House.
Three ideas would demolish or relocate houses for a new residential tower or towers on the 200 block of East Mifflin Street. The fourth locates housing above the parking garage.
All the options have hurdles.
Jason Tish, executive director of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, said it's important to respect the Lamp House and preferable to keep the current scale of the block, even if the other structures lack historical significance.
Given neighborhood concerns, building above the parking garage "is the most logical thing to do," Yoder said.
But that effort would involve a complex deal with the city, require study to ensure the structure can still support a big addition, and is opposed by Capitol Point residents, Maniaci said.
J.R. Sims, a Capitol Point condo owner, said neighbors want to preserve the character of the neighborhood and protect property values, which may erode if views are lost.
A substantial rehabilitation of existing houses with no new construction is the best option, he said.
The sites are in the heart of the central business district and "woefully underutilized," Yoder said. "If the neighborhood says we can't build anything, I don't know how to answer to that."