Constellation’s developers seeking another star attraction in the Galaxie

What do you do when you’ve already added a Constellation to the emerging canvas that is the increasingly vibrant East Washington corridor? You create a Galaxie, of course.

Gebhardt Development, which recently struck gold with the Constellation, its first major East Wash development, has officially closed on all aspects of the $90 million Galaxie project, and construction is expected to commence in August, according to company owner Otto Gebhardt.

“There’s a lot of buzz out there that I get to hear because of what I do in the community. And maybe more than a buzz, it may be a roar at this point.” — Angela Black, attorney, Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek

Gebhardt is eyeing an October 2015 opening for the development’s commercial space, which includes second- and third-floor offices as well as a 55,000-square-foot, ground-floor Festival Foods grocery, and he plans on having the 15-story, 205-unit residential tower open for occupancy in April 2016.

According to Angela Black, an attorney with Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek who assisted Gebhardt with the closing details (including securing city approvals and coordinating with various city departments during the sign-off process), the Constellation, which saw its share of controversy when it was first proposed, was instrumental in blazing a trail for the Galaxie and future East Wash developments.

“I absolutely think the Constellation was the catalyst for everything else that’s happening,” said Black. “Going into this three or four years ago now, there were a lot of people who said the Constellation wasn’t going to work, and Otto took the risk of doing it, and there were a lot of things that we had to do on the front end that were a lot more challenging than maybe what we had to go through on Galaxie. We had to get an ordinance changed to get the height that we needed to make the project work. We had to negotiate a TIF agreement under the city’s old TIF policy, including some variances to some of the policies that have now been changed under the new TIF policy. That process was a lot more difficult because we were the first ones in.

“There was a lot of skepticism as to whether it was going to work, and everybody had their opinions. I think had Constellation not happened, things might be proceeding a lot differently than they are. There’s just a tremendous amount of interest in the corridor now, and there’s a lot of momentum.”

If the Constellation has done nothing else for the long-neglected East Washington corridor, it’s provided proof of concept for other developments and developers. The building’s apartments opened with 100% occupancy, Google has settled in nicely, the facility’s coffee shop (Cargo Coffee) and neighborhood watering hole (Star Bar) have contributed to surrounding foot traffic, and celebrated Madison chef Tory Miller (of L’Etoile and Graze fame) is slated to open a new restaurant, called Sujeo, in the building this summer.

Expectations are just as high for Galaxie, and according to Gebhardt, the same savvy mix of residential, office, and retail space that propelled the fortunes of the Constellation development will be the key to the Galaxie’s success.

“With the Galaxie, we obviously intend to keep that momentum as far as [creating a mix of] local establishments — something that’s unique that you just don’t find anywhere,” said Gebhardt. “Also, we want to make sure that the mix is correct — you’ve got a retail base established for that type of activity; you’ve got living facilities, whether apartments or condos — so you have that base. And then you’ve also got a job-creation base, so you really get that 24-hour vibe and don’t have any downtime during the day.”

Years in the making

The Galaxie, to be built on the former Don Miller lot at 802 and 854 E. Washington Ave., will help transform a stretch of road that includes Breese Stevens Field, The Brink Lounge, and the Constellation.

To Gebhardt, much of the success of the Galaxie will hinge on its strategic location.

“I grew up in that neighborhood and my dad’s office was there when I was a kid, so we’ve really been eyeing up the East Washington corridor for 15 years,” said Gebhardt. “You’ve got this underutilized corridor between the two big lakes and right next to downtown, and we always knew there was a lot of potential there. It’s the gateway to the downtown from the airport, and its proximity to the Marquette and Tenney neighborhoods and the lakes [is important], so we knew all the pieces were there.”



That potent mix always made sense to Gebhardt, but he notes that his optimism was not universally shared when he first proposed the Constellation.

“There were a lot of naysayers about the Constellation,” said Gebhardt. “There were a lot of rumblings that what we were doing wasn’t going to work, that it couldn’t work, we didn’t have a shot. There were a lot of rumblings throughout the industry that we were nuts, and I think we certainly showed that the concept is very viable and very much in need. And the idea is we’ll be creating a whole neighborhood within a neighborhood, essentially connecting the Marquette and Tenney neighborhoods with the Capitol Square, just right in the middle of everything.”

For Black, the success Gebhardt had with the Constellation was also a factor in smoothing the road for the approvals the company needed to get the Galaxie project underway. In a city that has often — fairly or not — been criticized for being less than accommodating to developers, that is a welcome sign for all those interested in revamping the East Washington corridor.

“I guess in comparison with other projects I’ve worked on in the city, this one was not controversial; it was very much supported by the city, the developers, the neighborhoods,” said Black. “This corridor, everyone recognizes the value of its redevelopment, so it makes our jobs as developers, and attorneys for developers, easier.”

Meanwhile, says Black, the Constellation and its new sister development are not just getting people talking; they’re prompting plenty of action.

“Actually, I’m working with several other folks who are looking at projects in the corridor as well,” said Black. “And whether I’m working for someone or not, there’s a lot of buzz out there that I get to hear because of what I do in the community. And maybe more than a buzz, it may be a roar at this point. There are a lot of folks who are looking at doing stuff in the corridor, and I talk to a lot of people about our experience with the Constellation, and everybody seems very optimistic at this point in terms of what they’re looking to do.”

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