Hearing Out The Tech Center Skeptics

StartingBlock Madison, the proposed tech home for an incubator/maker space/etc. could prove crucial in growing the downtown startup scene. That is, if it’s built and financed smartly. In this Isthmus column I look at  the arguments made by skeptics who question the $15-20 million it might cost to build the complex at the old Mautz paint factory site.

[Tech leader Matt Younkle  says:] “When you look at this kind of money, you have to ask how many startups could you invest in for that? You really have to start asking questions about the profits and cost of that kind of capital. I think the community could do this on a leaner basis.”

Joe Boucher, a tech industry attorney who chairs the city’s Economic Development Committee, worries about StartingBlock’s proposed location, which is a mile from the Capitol Square. That’s too far away to catch the downtown buzz the tech crowd likes, he feels.

“These kids want to be within two or three blocks of the Capitol for practical matters,” says Boucher. The Mautz site “is just a little too far away for 25-years-olds. I know it sounds crazy, but they don’t want to go out eight or 10 blocks — a mile out on East Wash.”

He adds: “If they don’t hit the sweet spot on location, they better hit the sweet spot on everything else — the quality of the building, the cost of the rent. That has to be perfect.”

Craig Stanley, a commercial real estate broker with Broadwing Advisors, shares Boucher’s concern. He can’t see why tech companies would lease market-rate space on East Wash for $18 per square foot when they could pay the same rate for space one block off the Square and be moments away from five cool restaurants.

Stanley says he likes the concept of StartingBlock, but adds, “I don’t see the demand to fill the space.” The veteran broker describes a very soft downtown office market with high vacancy rates. Overall it’s at 17.2%, but even higher at 21.2% for the class B space StartingBlock would offer, he notes.

To read more, including the rebuttals from project advocates, pls go here: http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41227

And for an  update over the Mautz site negotiations, pls go here: http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41243

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