Hotel Red

A rendering of a three-story addition to HotelRED on Monroe Street, recently approved by the city's Plan Commission. 

A quick look at some of the new towering downtown Madison buildings — like the 15-story Galaxie or 10-story AC Hotel — makes it clear that the city of Madison has been growing taller in recent years.

That’s not the only place Madison is growing: on Monday Night, the city’s Plan Commission approved an addition to HotelRED on Monroe Street and student apartments to be built over a State Street business.

But it’s not always easy to get a tall building or addition approved. The HotelRED project proved to be a contentious neighborhood subject and the State Street developer had to first satisfy concerns that they wouldn't create a nuisance to nearby properties. 


The height of HotelRED has long been a subject of contention. When HotelRED was first proposed, nearby residents fought against a five-story version of the hotel and won.

Located steps from Camp Randall Stadium at 1501 Monroe St., the hotel is currently four stories tall. Earlier this year, it proposed an addition that would double its height. That plan would have increased the hotel from its current 39,867 square feet to about 76,600 square feet and added about 50 guest rooms.

Some neighbors opposed the addition and the Plan Commission agreed that while the taller building would look better, an eight-story structure wouldn’t fit in with the surrounding buildings.

HotelRED tried again with another proposal, this time adding two full floors of guest rooms and a “heavily recessed” seventh floor, about half the size, with a rooftop garden, two decks, public event space and a bar and lounge. It would add 39 guest rooms for a total of 66,007 square feet.

When appearing before the city’s Urban Design Commission (UDC) earlier this month, members didn’t have a problem with the massing, but called the design disjointed and chaotic. They said the new design tries to use too many projections, materials and setbacks. 

Despite the UDC’s criticism, Jason Ilstrup, HotelRED general manager said after the meeting that the design team would work hard to take its recommendations into account before the Plan Commission meeting.

“We’re definitely taking to heart what they said,” Ilstrup said. "We’re certainly going to do what we can.”

The new plans appeared before the Plan Commission Monday, with neighbors still voicing their opposition. Several submitted comments noting if the original five-story design didn’t fit in with the neighborhood, neither would a seven-story design.

“We were promised by the City this building would not exceed 4 stories. The neighborhood has already determined a seven-story building does not fit with the Monroe Street Commercial District Plan,” one letter said.

Neighbors also cited concerns about noise from the proposed rooftop bar and asked to preserve “the unique character of our historic area.” 

The city Planning Division agreed, saying that the addition would be “out of context with its immediate surrounding.”

Sara Eskrich, alder for the district, wrote a letter expressing her support for the proposal, noting that the new plans “significantly work to address the concerns raised by residents.” But she noted that neighborhood opinion was split and that she had lingering concerns.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission approved the plan, calling it an “aesthetic improvement,” and an “anchor” for the corner.

State Street Addition

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The Plan Commission granted final approval for the design of an apartment addition to a two-story building at 668 State St., currently home to a UW Credit Union branch on the first floor and Browzer Bookshop on the second floor.

The project would add four stories to the existing structure, with a six-story addition behind the building to create about 24 apartments.

The design was unanimously approved by the UDC earlier this month and the city’s Planning Division recommended approval of the project.

The discussion at Monday’s meeting centered not on the height, but on aspects of the design and who would be living in the building.

As the project previously described the building as “student-oriented apartments,” there was concern about the behavior of tenants.

Carol Askins, owner of Paul’s Bookstore which is next door to the proposed development, spoke against the project, noting concerns about a rooftop terrace and the potential for residents to throw trash or other items off the side.

Architect Randy Bruce said the apartments would “not necessarily” house students, adding that “the developers would prefer if it wasn’t all students.” The commission discussed use of security cameras and creating a buffer in between the terrace and neighboring properties.

The commission ultimately approved the design, with conditions including a minimum of 5-foot buffer around the rooftop terrace and that the west elevation of the building be referred back to the UDC to “lessen the “blank wall appearance.”

The addition is slated to begin at the beginning of November and be completed by August of next year.