Developers say a $4.9 million ongoing renovation of three blighted apartment buildings in the town of Madison will benefit the community that surrounds it and the business park next to it, while its tenants will get a better place to live at below-market rates.
The Alexander Co., a Madison-based developer focused on adaptive reuse and urban infill, is doing a top-to-bottom rehab of the 1960s-era buildings at 2617-2709 Pheasant Ridge Trail. The work will modernize the two-story buildings and make each of the 42 living units safer and more energy efficient.

“The buildings used to be energy sieves,” said Matthew Meier, vice president of real estate development at Alexander Co. “You’d drive by there in the winter and there’d be icicles hanging down 10 feet. So the building envelopes will be sealed up really well, and we’ll have (heavy-duty) insulation in the attics and air sealing for state-of-the-art building efficiency.”

Two of the buildings also will be reconfigured — by literally slicing off 10 to 15 feet from each one — to make room for a road right-of-way between them that will allow town officials to provide a long-sought second connection to the Southdale neighborhood from Rimrock Road.
Most broadly, the remodeling of Pheasant Ridge Apartments, long seen as the most troubled complex in the neighborhood, is one more domino down in the effort to revitalize the Madison area’s central Beltline corridor.
Viewed as the front door to Madison’s more thriving Downtown and university areas, the central corridor has seen major public and private investment in recent years, along South Park Street at the Villager Mall, at Arbor Gate off Todd Drive, and at other South Side locations.
Alexander’s purchase of the buildings late last year and their redevelopment, bolstered by $380,000 in state tax credits, is part of that strategy, and it’s working, company president Joe Alexander said.

“From expansion at Alliant, to our efforts at Novation (business park) and in the local neighborhood, to those of the city of Madison, the town of Madison and the city of Fitchburg,” Alexander said, “this gateway to Madison has gained real momentum, and is attracting new businesses, new residents and new visitors.”

New look for apartments

When finished in late November, the Pheasant Ridge renovations will directly impact about 100 tenants expected to live there, most of whom will have lower incomes. The project’s receipt of tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority means most units must be income-restricted, though some will rent at market rates, Meier said, for a mixed-income development funded by company reserves and JP Morgan Chase Bank.
The buildings will offer one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, ranging from 700 to 900 square feet, and monthly rents ranging from $650 to $975. The handful of remaining current tenants — who were temporarily moved to nearby apartment buildings at Alexander’s expense when construction started two months ago — will pay the same rents they did before, so the improvements will cost them nothing, Meier said.
Improved amenities will include new stainless-steel appliances, new doors and trim, central air-conditioning, wood-grain cabinetry and wood laminate floors on the first floor, with carpet in second-floor units to prevent noise issues.
Bigger units will have in-unit washers and dryers, with a shared laundry in the building basements and parking outside.

“It’ll be seen as a very good value for the tenants who are able to live there,” Meier said. “The rent will be less than what it would be had it been market rate.”

Every apartment also will have an open floor plan, Meier said, created by knocking down part of a wall enclosing each kitchen to create an island opening to the living room.
Building exteriors will have double-paned, high-efficiency windows, along with all new siding, balconies, roofing and a reconfigured outdoor lighting system. Security cameras will be added, and the buildings will be brought up to code, with interior sprinkler systems for fire protection plus fire alarms and hard-wired smoke detectors.
The units weren’t totally gutted, not “down-to-the-studs,” Meier said, because a lot of dry wall was salvageable. But a lot of other things had to go.

“The buildings were nearing the end of their useful life without a major capital infusion,” Meier said. “They were the worst buildings condition-wise in the neighborhood. The mechanicals were shot.”

Spillover benefits

And because of where the buildings are — on a dividing line between Alexander’s Novation Campus west of Rimrock Road near the Beltline and the Southdale neighborhood west of Novation — improving them also should provide spillover benefits for the business park and neighborhood.
For example, police and fire calls plagued at least one of the buildings, before it was vacated and boarded up last year by town officials. That problem should be eased as the Alexander Co. takes over property management from the former absentee landlord.

“We had major code violations,” town of Madison Chairman James Campbell said, noting the town “absolutely” welcomed the rehab.

“Anytime you bring something back up to modern standards, it’s got to benefit the community. A vacant building never helps any neighborhood.”

The project also could encourage other property owners in the area to clean up blighted buildings and help spur new investment in the business park, which now employs about 700.

“A lot of times we end up focusing on the worst adverse influence in a neighborhood and making it the best,” Meier said. “That makes the biggest difference in a neighborhood, so what we do ends up being a catalyst. I think it also sets an example for other people to follow, giving them the confidence to reinvest in their own properties.”

Verona-based Engineered Construction is the general contractor on the Pheasant Ridge project. Bill Jackson, vice president of business development and marketing, said his company liked partnering with Alexander because of its focus on infill and reuse.

“I just think it’s great for the community that it’s not a brand-new building, but that they’re taking an existing building and incorporating a lot of green features in it,” he said.

Jackson also liked the project’s South Side focus.

“As a lifelong resident of Madison, I’ve seen that area continue to go downhill over the years, and it’s nice to see something positive happening,” he said.