A prominent hotelier wants to repurpose Downtown’s historic Rubin’s Furniture store building on the 300 block of East Wilson Street into a hotel with commercial space and a rooftop patio overlooking Lake Monona.
North Central Group, of Middleton, which owns and operates more than 30 properties across multiple states, is proposing to readapt the historic, four-story building at 317 E. Wilson St. and a newer two-story building at 323 E. Wilson St., both now used by Rubin’s Furniture, for the 45-room “Wilson Street Hotel,” plans submitted to the city say.
The independent, extended-stay hotel would offer a mix of studio and one- and two-bedroom units, spacious rooms highlighting the existing historic warehouse structure and finishes, a rooftop patio above the two-story building for guest use, first-floor commercial space along East Wilson Street, and a fitness room and guest laundry, the plans say.
The development team could not be reached.
“I have mixed emotions,” said Ald. Mike Verveer, whose 4th District includes the site. “I mourn the loss of a longtime Downtown institution. The majority of furniture in my house is from Rubin’s Downtown showroom. On the other hand, I’m excited this historic building will see a new life as an adaptive reuse development.”
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The proposed hotel is also a great sign that Downtown remains attractive to hoteliers despite the COVID-19 pandemic that’s impacted the hospitality industry, Verveer said.
Rubin’s, which has offered home furnishings Downtown and then other locations since 1918, currently has retail store locations at 317 E. Wilson St. and 670 S. Whitney Way.
The business, however, has outgrown its Downtown location and is remodeling part of its distribution center at 2300 Badger Lane off the Beltline into showroom space, Bob Rubin said. There will be more than 50,000 square feet of showroom at the Badger Lane site, 30% more than the Downtown location, along with more than 80 parking spots, he said.
Ben Rubin started the furniture business about 1918 in the 300 block of East Wilson Street, across the street from the present building. About 1932, the family opened a store on King Street, calling it Badger Furniture. Bob Rubin took over the business in the late 1970s and moved the operation down to 317 E. Wilson St. and changed the name back to Rubin’s.
The building at 317 E. Wilson St., built in the Neoclassical Revival/Craftsman style, was designed by Madison architect Alvan Small and completed in 1907. It is assessed at $1.12 million. The building currently does not have a formal historic designation, but the Downtown Preservation Plan lists it as a potential landmark and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, city preservation planner Heather Bailey said.
It is the only building in Madison that was constructed for a leather-goods business, city records say. It was built for Charles Hoebel, who was president of the Madison Saddlery Company, manufacturers of all types of harnesses and wholesale dealers in saddler hardware, blankets, fur goods, saddles, whips, and more. The company closed in 1930, a casualty of the rise of the automobile and tractor, the records say.
The structure at 323 E. Wilson St., built in 1973 and assessed at $775,000, does not appear in city historic preservation records, Bailey said.
The developers are applying for Historic Tax Credits for the four-story masonry building, and the renovation of that structure will be further reviewed by the Wisconsin Historical Society and National Parks Service, North Central Group’s submission says.
“This structure retains a great deal of its historic materials and is part of the character of Downtown, which is an important factor when we consider maintaining our sense of place while also making room for Madison to grow,” Bailey said. “This building has a lot of potential to be integrated into a redevelopment of the site. Rehabilitation and sensitive evolution of a property speaks to the heart of the work that preservationists do today.”
The exterior renovation of the existing buildings will mainly concern the smaller two-story structure, the submission says.
The concept is for the two-story facade not to compete or attempt to replicate the adjacent historic structure, with the use of neutral colors on the two-story building meant to allow the adjacent red brick facades to shine and remain the star of the show along East Wilson Street, it says.
Verveer is scheduling an online neighborhood meeting for 7 p.m. March 3. North Central Group is seeking initial and final approvals for the project from the Urban Design Commission at its March 9 meeting. The proposal will undergo staff reviews but no other city committee or City Council approvals are needed, he said.
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