A 12-story boutique-style apartment complex planned for the current local restaurant Vintage Spirits & Grill location raised alarms for students and community members about a growing affordable housing crisis in Madison.
Madison developer The Carey Group submitted a proposal on June 26 to replace the campus-area tavern at 529 University Ave. with a 33-unit apartment building with commercial space on the first floor. Each floor is expected to have one two-bed unit and two four-bed units, according to the proposal.
Kevin Carey, the project developer, told Channel 3000 last week he is looking to build a "legacy-type project" on the site. Carey’s goal for the building is to provide smaller-scale, luxury living for students as an alternative to high-density apartments with hundreds of beds common in the downtown area.
Carey did not respond to The Daily Cardinal’s request for a statement.
Brittany Kraemer and her husband have owned Vintage for 21 years after renting from a previous family. Kraemer told the Cardinal she had the first offer to purchase when the previous landowners sold the land, but The Carey Groups’s offer was far beyond the value of the property and significantly more than Kraemer and her husband could afford.
“The relationships formed in this building could write a novel. To all of us, this is so much more than just a restaurant,” Kraemer said. “So if she was to be torn down, it would be devastating to say the least.”
Vintage ‘vital’ to some students’ college experience
Community members in Madison took to social media angry and concerned over the possible loss of one of Madison’s longest-standing family-owned establishments.
Will Keating, a University of Wisconsin-Madison sophomore, received the news from a post made by Badger Barstool on Instagram.
“My friends and I congregate there every Wednesday. We call it Vintage Wednesday, and it's the highlight of my week,” Keating said. “Where would we go if Vintage was torn down? They would be taking the heart and soul out of Madison, a city that thrives on heart and soul!”
Keating is one of many students concerned about the potential loss of their go-to spot. UW-Madison senior Ashleigh Christy told the Cardinal she frequents Vintage with her friends multiple times a week.
“My college experience and my life will not be the same if Vintage is torn down,” Christy said. “I'll be one of those people who chains myself to the Vintage patio when they bring out the bulldozers.”
Keating expressed similar feelings.
“Watching the first swing of the wrecking ball on Vintage would be like watching a puppy getting shot in the face point blank,” Keating said. “Nobody wants that, nobody wants that at all.”
Megan Sullivan, manager of Library Cafe and Bar, has been a Vintage customer since 2010. Sullivan said she bonded with the staff and owners over the years, at one point hosting a benefit for of her employees suffering with health issues.
“It was incredible to be a part of a community who came together to support them.” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said losing Vintage to luxury housing would prompt her to consider leaving Madison after living in the city since 2007.
“Vintage being torn down just feels heartbreaking,” she said. “And for what, to have another building to house more students because UW continues to admit more and more students every year? What's left downtown in the next five years? Nothing iconic and local will be left.”
A Change.org petition to save Vintage began circulating July 10. The petition, which “recognizes the potential economic, philanthropic and historical losses” the Madison community will experience if the restaurant is demolished, has over 3,600 signatures as of Monday.
“Taking away a vital part of that corner where friends and family gather to laugh, celebrate milestones and just take a moment to relax and people-watch is far from progress in my opinion,” Kraemer said.
Students, leaders weigh solutions to housing crisis
Students and Madison residents worry the proposed project will exacerbate Madison’s growing affordable student housing crisis.
Madison rents jumped 14.1% over the past year and 30.4% since March 2020 — the sharpest rent increase of any major city in the United States.
District 8 Alder MGR Govindarajan, who represents much of the UW-Madison area on Madison’s Common Council, sent a survey to students in response to another apartment project downtown.
Over 1,700 students responded to the survey with negative comments about their housing experience.
“This project is working to take away a classic campus spot for more housing that none of the students can afford,” Christy said. “The thought of losing one of my favorite places to a project that will harm our community saddens me.”
But the Vintage redevelopment is welcome news for UW-Madison senior Erica Alter, who told the Cardinal her housing search over the years has been “frustrating.” Alter was one of dozens who camped outside leasing offices for 24 hours or more last fall as UW-Madison’s growing student population scrambled for limited housing.
“We fought hard enough to get to this school in the first place,” Alter said. “Why should we be camping outside overnight in the winter for semi-affordable housing?”
Although saying goodbye to Vintage would be sad, Alter believes more housing for students is necessary.
“The fact of the matter is we need more space if the school is going to continue adding to the student population in unprecedented amounts with each admissions cycle,” Alter said. “But we do not need another all access, hotel-like apartment complex. The pricing should be reasonable, not seek[ing] to take advantage of college students.”
“I recognize the need for additional housing units, but I ran on representing the student voice,” Govindarajan said. “It seems like most students at the moment would like to preserve Vintage, so I will explore the options to do so.”
UW-Madison senior Caroline Riordan agrees that destroying a local business for more expensive housing for students is not a solution to the crisis in Madison.
“Making rent each month while enrolled as a full-time student has been nothing short of a challenge,” Riordan said. “I believe tearing down one of the more affordable restaurants in downtown Madison to install additional luxury apartments is not the answer.”
Density a delicate balance
Govindarajan wants to explore other options to solve the student housing crisis, including upzoning single-family homes south of Regent Street and west of Camp Randall.
“I believe that redeveloping these areas to include more density and increased height can really help address the housing crisis,” Govindarajan said. “Furthermore, many of these single-family houses are old and have a lot of problems for residents. Redeveloping them can address this concern as well.”
Govindarajan hopes upzoning will allow the city to add more units without increasing rent.
“I want to clarify that I'm not calling for an elimination of all single-family housing, and exclusively want to focus on the immediate off-campus area where students already are the majority of residents,” he said. “The more housing units there are, the less rent will increase.”
Riordan believes the new apartment project will exacerbate the housing crisis and push students out of Madison.
“Consider the Wisconsin Idea; if the city is unaffordable, students will get their degree and go elsewhere,” Riordan said. “All knowledge provided to them will leave as well, so what are we really giving back to our community?”
While students and residents aim to protect their beloved bar and restaurant, Govindarajan said the demolition of Vintage contributes to the larger crisis that impacts both students and the city.
“None of this would've happened without all the feedback, personal stories and outreach we received — it must continue otherwise our concerns may never be addressed," Govindarajan said. “Change doesn't happen overnight, but we just lit the spark for change."