Lighthouse’s David Haug shares designs for the “avenue”

David Haug, president of Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate, is one of the real estate brokers with grand visions of what the East Washington Avenue corridor can become. At the moment, he admits that “East Wash” isn’t all it can be, but he has little doubt it can become a grander entrance to the Capitol.

In a city that would like to rejuvenate its tax base through urban infill, higher density, and employment opportunities, the redevelopment of the East Washington corridor, which extends from the outer reaches of the Capitol to the Yahara River, is a particularly high priority.

“It’s probably the number one zone the city wants to see redeveloped,” Haug said. “It has gotten a lot of attention from the powers that be.”

City fathers and mothers aren’t the only ones. In what Haug called a coup for the corridor, Shopbop, the online women’s fashion retailer, recently announced that it would lease about 200,000 square feet of space at 1245 and 1301 E. Washington from the Mullins Group. Shopbop will move 200 employees there, and Haug hopes they are the latest in a wave of young professionals that already includes employees at nearby incubator space, high-tech firms like Google, and the samplers of nightlife offered by the likes of the High Noon Saloon and The Brink Lounge.

While the city has made a commitment to purchase and resell parcels for development on the Don Miller site, Lighthouse hopes to light the way by giving new life to the 900 block of East Washington, which contains the old Mautz Paint site, now zoned M-1 manufacturing. Lighthouse represents one of the property owners, a local student housing family that owns the entire Mautz block, except for the Madison Credit Union building (4.25 acres out of 4.5 total acres). The company has been showing properties to what Haug called “highly qualified tenants” who would either reuse the existing Kleuter warehouse space, or opt for build-to-suit opportunities with new developments.

Both the Mautz site, which is for employment-focused uses, and the Don Miller site, which is earmarked for residential development, including multi-family, surround Breese Stevens field, a former minor league baseball park now used as a soccer venue. In Haug’s vision, the facility would make phenomenal green space for commercial development to complement.

That would complement some of the natural amenities close by, including lakes Mendota and Monona, beaches, bike paths, Tenney Park and other local parks, including the long-awaited development of Madison Central Park on a former industrial site located at Ingersoll and Willy streets.

“Things like having parking structures that would help provide parking in the evenings and weekends for more sporting events,” Haug said, “would be good for families.”

Doing business

The business focus of the south end has the potential for a synergistic, high-tech/clean-tech district. Google, he noted, is two blocks off East Washington on Blount Street. It may not occupy a large space, but it does represent a big-name anchor to go along with an existing assortment of business incubator space on Main Street focused on solar energy, solar panels, rain barrels, and the like.

Wisconsin is in the process of welcoming W Solar Group, a California maker of solar panels that will bring more than 600 jobs here, and the East Washington corridor might be a synergistic place for its plant, Haug suggested.

The corridor also has smaller parcels that could be used for niche properties, including the small Don Miller parcel across from the main Don Miller site that could be developed for mixed uses, including restaurants to join the Avenue Bar, High Noon Saloon, Brass Ring, and Brink Lounge.

Combined with the eclectic mix of restaurants, coffee shops, and entertainment on Willy Street, Haug believes the city can attract young professionals who have grown beyond the UW campus and State Street areas.

In terms of density, the city is thinking big. According to the East Washington BUILD Capitol Gateway Corridor Plan, a developer can get 12 to 15 stories on the East Washington side of the Mautz block, which Haug views as a “staggering height” considering what else is on the block, but not in violation of nearby height restrictions.

“Actually, some of the towers on the square are over 10 stories,” Haug noted. “The Capitol is a lot higher than people think.”

“To me, this is the area that really has the greatest upside potential,” he added. “Right now, it’s got a lot of old, single-story industrial uses, but if there is going to be significant growth in the downtown corridor, this is really ground zero for all of that new development.”

Haug noted that East Washington development talk is nothing new, but a decade-old process that already has included utility and street improvements. He noted that financing for redevelopment might come together quickly because some of the parcels are located in tax incremental finance districts. In addition, new market tax credits, brown field tax credits, historic tax credits, and flood zone tax credits are potentially available.

Time will tell, but Haug is even optimistic that Madison’s maze-like development process won’t ruin any chances to transform the East Washington corridor. He said Lighthouse and local developers have been working with city planners, the mayor, alders, and neighborhoods, and he believes that encouraging commercial uses to create density and tax base, which eases the burden on residential taxpayers, is a welcome prospect for local residents.

He thinks the right plans could be just around the corner, which would please those getting impatient with the pace of development of the corridor, Central Park, and virtually every aspect of redevelopment.

“Interestingly, when I was at March neighborhood meetings in 2010, the neighbors were standing up and saying, ‘When are we going to start developing? Enough talk, enough planning, let’s make things happen.'”

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