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Early support gives Edgewater momentum

Renovation and expansion plans are in the works for Madison’s Edgewater Hotel, pictured March 26.   File Photo by Anna Ironside

Renovation and expansion plans are in the works for Madison’s Edgewater Hotel, pictured March 26. File Photo by Anna Ironside

Paul Snyder
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The Hammes Co.’s proposed $100 million renovation of Madison’s Edgewater Hotel could set a new course for developers frustrated with the city’s project approval process.

“We could be looking at a whole different ballgame if this project is approved,” said Carole Schaeffer, executive director of Smart Growth Greater Madison Inc. “This is a company that worked with the neighborhood for a long time beforehand and is now able to approach the city and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’”

Hammes’ decision to strive toward consensus before officially proposing the project is, so far at least, paying dividends, said Bob Dunn, president of the Brookfield-based real estate development firm.

“(Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz) supports it, and we’ve had tremendous support from the neighborhood,” Dunn said. “We’ve worked hard for a number of months to understand the concerns of the neighborhood, and we’ve got a strong coalition.”

The company wants to renovate the hotel, attach an 11-story addition and build a public-access walkway and terrace on the shore of Lake Mendota. The addition would add about 240 hotel rooms and suites as well as retail space and dining options. Dunn said Hammes will submit its plans to the city before the end of July.

According to early Hammes estimates, the project could create up to 1,000 construction jobs.

Still, Dunn said, he knows opposition remains. Hammes dealt with one major concern in the neighborhood by preserving the view of Lake Mendota from Wisconsin Avenue — the 11-story addition will be built east of Wisconsin Avenue.

But concerns tied to the neighborhood’s development plan could fester.

Alderwoman Bridget Maniaci, who represents the area in which the project is proposed, said battle lines are drawn within the Mansion Hill neighborhood over whether the project will meet neighborhood design standards. She also said Dunn’s characterization of support as a “Mansion Hill neighborhood coalition” is incorrect.

“There are some heavy preservationist-minded people very nervous about the plan,” she said.

Once officially proposed, the project will need approvals from the city’s Urban Design and Plan commissions and a certificate of appropriateness from the Madison Landmarks Commission.

However, Dunn said, with the early work put in by Hammes, he is confident the company can secure the approvals and finish the project by 2012. He said the company is considering a variety of financing options for the project work, but he declined to provide details.

If the project meets its 2012 timeline, Schaeffer said, developers who have dealt with public criticism while trying to gain city approvals for projects might rework their playbooks.

But Madison developer Joe Krupp said it is not that simple. Developers already try to generate support, which is a lot easier to obtain for a $100 million project than a small neighborhood infill development.

“I think it’s the size that allows this to work,” Krupp said. “It has real advantages in that it has impacts that stretch beyond the neighborhood. So the base of support is wider than the neighborhood.”

Yet Krupp said it is smart to generate as much preliminary support as possible.

“Those people are there for the project now,” he said. “(Dunn) doesn’t have to worry about them showing up in the normal channels later, opposed.”

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