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KONTEXT breathes new life into Nichols Station

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Nichols Station has already undergone a redevelopment before.

The downtown apartments were created in 1983 in what had been the Madison Waterworks building. Now, the 34 apartments at Nichols Station have a new lease on life thanks to a yearlong redevelopment project lead by KONTEXT architects, which will be officially unveiled today in a grand opening celebration.

“I love working on old buildings,” says Amy Hasselman, architect/project manager for KONTEXT architects. “Each of them is such a character, and I enjoy helping them become what they wanted to be when they grew up. So many newer apartments around Madison all look the same — it bores me. There’s nothing about this building that’s the same as everywhere else, and it’s part of what makes Madison unique.”

Hasselman says Nichols Station is far from the first historic redevelopment project KONTEXT has worked on in the Madison area — others include Quivey’s Grove, the Orpheum, the Fess Hotel, the Trademark building on East Washington Ave., the International Harvestor building at 301 S. Blount St., and the UW–Madison chancellor’s residence, to name just a few — but this was different from the firm’s typical redevelopment projects in that it was already converted from its original industrial use into apartments.

“We weren’t changing the use, or even the majority of the layout,” Hasselman notes. “Most of our redevelopment projects, but not all, are a little more of a blank slate within an original shell.”

According to Hasselman, Wisconsin Management (the property owner) came to KONTEXT in early 2013 and said they had this building in a great location, but it had gotten shabby and nobody even noticed it as they drove down Gorham Street. "They said, 'It’s a great building and has a lot of potential that’s not being realized — what can we do to fix that?'" Hasselman explains. "We worked as a team led by Wisconsin Management and their development advisor Urban Apex for two years before construction started to make this happen."

Hasselman says demolition on the $5 million Nichols Station project started late this past winter and the reconstruction is almost done. Apart from landscaping, which won’t be complete until spring 2016, the construction will be complete by year’s end. In fact, the first new tenants have already moved in.

Hasselman says the focus of the redevelopment is on tenant comfort and the integrity of the building.

“We did not change the number or layout of the units, for the most part,” she explains. “On the exterior we restored the masonry and the large exterior windows, and made changes to the site and landscaping for greater accessibility. On the interior we opened up cramped spaces to more light and air, as well as replaced all of the finishes, lighting, kitchens, and baths.

“We improved the insulation and replaced ancient heating and air conditioning units with much more efficient ones,” Hasselman adds. “We also opened up the lobby to the original roof truss structure and added a mezzanine level with laundry and leasing office.”

Hasselman notes the building’s 34 living units feature living options for just about anyone, as they range in size from small one-bedroom studios to three-story townhouses with lake views, fireplaces, and in-unit laundry. No two units are exactly the same. Courtyards and the lobby mezzanine provide both interior and exterior social spaces for residents, and many units have their own patios or decks. Additionally, James Madison Park and Lake Mendota are just across Gorham Street, and the Capitol Square is just a few blocks away.

(Continued)

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