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Madison waits to ramp up parking project

The Government East site in Madison is where the new underground parking lot would be built. (Image courtesy of Google)

The Government East site in Madison is where the new underground parking lot would be built. (Image courtesy of Google)

By Paul Snyder

Design work for an 820-stall underground parking ramp in Madison will stay in neutral until someone claims the real estate on top of the project.

The interest is there, but the Madison Parking Utility needs a name on the dotted line, said Bill Knobeloch, the city’s parking operations manager.

“Until we know who the partners are and that they’re committed, there’s no way to design this project,” he said. “We don’t know whether we’re going to have to be spacing support structures for an 11-story office building or a boutique hotel.”

Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp. remains interested in building at the site a hotel that could incorporate the Madison Municipal Building, said David Merritt, the company’s vice president of development. But Marcus has not submitted a formal plan to the city, and there are no project timelines.

“Financing is a bit difficult to secure in this climate,” Merritt said.

Knobeloch said the development team pitching a Madison Public Market is interested in moving the project from the Brayton parking lot at East Washington Avenue and Butler Street to the Government East site, which is where the new underground lot would be built.

Neither Jim Bower, executive director of Madison-based Blue Partners LLC, nor Marianne Morton, executive director of Madison-based Common Wealth Development Inc., returned calls to comment on moving the market project. The two companies are the development team for the market project.

Even if the Madison Public Market team commits to moving the project, Knobeloch said, the market would only take up one story, and likely be part of a taller, mixed-use building that could include city office, private offices or other retail options.

The 52-year-old existing aboveground ramp at the Government East site is the oldest ramp in the city. The parking utility has no immediate concerns about the structural integrity of the ramp, but Knobeloch said it cannot last too much longer.

“My wish is that we’re well on our way into design and construction of the new ramp within five years,” he said. “I didn’t ask any consultant to look at what it would cost to keep Government East up beyond five years. The further you go out there, the riskier it gets.”

For the next five years, at least, Government East will cost Madison an extra $15,000 per year for concrete remediation and other technical upgrades.

The yearly cost pales in comparison with the estimated $22.4 million underground replacement, but Knobeloch said the parking utility has saved about $16 million for the new ramp and wants a partner as soon as possible to get the project moving.

The Madison Parking Utility is not the only group concerned about a timely replacement for Government East.

“I think for many years now, people in this city have realized that Government East needs to be redeveloped,” said Alderman Mike Verveer.

The city renewed its commitment to the new structure in the 2010 budget, setting aside $1.2 million just for design work on the underground ramp.

But Knobeloch said he will not spend that money until he knows what will be built on top.

“It’s money that’s there,” he said, “but it’s still taxpayer money.”

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