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Battle brews over hotel project

Paul Snyder
paul.snyder@dailyreporter.com

Renovation and expansion plans are in the works for Madison’s Edgewater Hotel, pictured March 26. Any changes likely will be subject to much scrutiny before being approved.   Photo by Anna Ironside

Renovation and expansion plans are in the works for Madison’s Edgewater Hotel, pictured March 26. Any changes likely will be subject to much scrutiny before being approved. Photo by Anna Ironside

State, city and neighborhood officials are ready to wrap red tape around the Edgewater Hotel’s renovation and expansion as soon as the Madison project is proposed.

“Based on the discussions we’ve had to date, this project could involve a number of different ordinances and different types of approval,” said Brad Murphy, the city’s planning division director.

Brookfield-based Hammes Co., a real estate development firm, is planning the renovation and expansion of the hotel on the shore of Lake Mendota, but the company has not yet made a presentation to the city, said Bob Dunn, Hammes president.

As soon as the company officially proposes the project, Murphy said, it will face issues such as property rezoning, waterfront setback requirements, a certificate of appropriateness from the city’s Landmarks Commission and use of right of way on Wisconsin Avenue.

Adam Collins, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said he cannot speculate on unofficial project plans, but the DNR would want to protect the quality of Lake Mendota.

In addition to the regulatory obstacles before the project, local opinion of a hotel addition is not particularly strong, said Gene Devitt, chairman of the Mansion Hill Historic District in which the Edgewater operates.

“I’m all for redoing the Edgewater at its present size,” he said. “But you’re dealing with a national historic area and concerns about preserving the character of the neighborhood as a commercial development expands into a residential area.”

Dunn said plans for the expansion are still tentative, and he did not explain the details of the expansion. He said he is not fazed by the difficult process of gaining neighborhood, city and state approval.

“If you understand the context of our business, it’s what we’re in,” he said. “We do stadiums. We’re familiar with complex work, and every project has a series of issues.”

But one of the most challenging hurdles to a hotel expansion might come from a 1960s ordinance dictating the aesthetics of the area. When a renovation to the Edgewater was done in 1965, the city ruled any additional expansion on the property must respect the view of Lake Mendota from nearby Langdon Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

“The neighborhood is still in agreement on that,” Devitt said. “This (neighborhood) is the oldest jewel of Madison, by far. A lot of time was put into restoring it and putting it back to a residential area.
“When people move here, they have to abide by the rules.”

Dunn said Hammes designers will continue planning for a couple of months and likely will put plans before the city later this year. There is not a lot, he said, that could keep the company from moving forward.

“This is one of the most valuable properties in the city,” he said. “There aren’t five other sites around Madison like it.”

That is why the city will work to preserve its integrity, Murphy said.

“A request to modify any part of an ordinance we have that deals with this property,” he said, “will likely have to go before the Common Council.”

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