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Vacant Union Corners property ready and waiting

Paul Snyder
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The estimated $100 million Union Corners development proposed for Madison is dead, but Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said he wants to attract another developer to bring the long vacant site to life.

“I’m confident that as we come out of the recession there will be something else for that site,” he said. “It’s already received necessary zoning approvals, there are no blighted properties or abandoned, ugly structures there. It’s ready.”

Milwaukee-based Marshall & Ilsley Corp. this week took title to the property, effectively ending

Madison-based McGrath Associates Inc.’s six-year-old plans for the site as well as city negotiations to buy the property and sell it to a different developer.

McGrath originally proposed a multibuilding, mixed-use project for the site at East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street that would have included condominiums, retail and office space. The subsequent downturn in the housing market stalled the project.

McGrath representatives were unavailable for comment.

The city approved nearly $5 million in tax incremental financing for the McGrath proposal, said Joe Gromacki, the city’s TIF coordinator.

TIF districts let municipalities borrow money to subsidize developments and pay for utility and street work that serves projects. Communities then use new taxes generated by the projects to pay off the debt.

The city did not spend any of the $5 million in TIF, Gromacki said, because no development ever transpired. But, he said, Madison spent roughly $1.6 million on street upgrades for the area, including a roundabout.

Gromacki said the city is paying off that loan through other growth in the district. A new developer that wants to use TIF for a Union Corners-type project would have to apply for city approval.

M&I has not decided what to do with the property, said spokeswoman Sara Schmitz.

Cieslewicz said the city discussed buying the land from M&I to put in a city land bank, which Madison created in its budget last year as a way to buy and hold distressed properties until new developers make an offer. The city budgeted $5 million for the land bank and Dane County last year assessed the Union Corners site at roughly $4.5 million.

Cieslewicz would not say how much the city offered for the land or how much M&I wanted, but said the two sides could not agree on a price.

Common Council President Mark Clear, who helped create the land bank, said the city still would be interested in buying the site, but only if M&I lowers its asking price.

No other developers have expressed interest in the site to Cieslewicz, but he said the city is willing to help anyone build there.

“We approved TIF there before,” he said, “and certainly we’d entertain another look at that in the future.”

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