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Edgewater wait tests builders’ patience

Paul Snyder
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There are 154 unemployed union electricians waiting for negotiations to end and work to begin on Madison’s Edgewater Hotel redevelopment.

“Any delay certainly dims the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Mark Hoffman, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 159. “Even if this gets through in the city budget, it’s a long ways off, but it’s looking longer and longer.”

The electricians will get their chance, said Bob Dunn, president of Brookfield-based Hammes Co., developer of the proposed $100 million project, but not until he and the neighborhood opponents of the project try to settle their differences.

“I’m not trying to bracket this thing with a timetable,” he said. “I need to be sure everyone gets fair and equal consideration.”

Dunn last month suspended the proposal’s movement through city committees after project opposition increased from the Mansion Hill Historic District and Capitol Neighborhoods Inc., a collective of all downtown neighborhood groups.

“The mere fact that he decided to meet with Mansion Hill neighborhood was a step in the right direction,” said Madison Alderman Mike Verveer, who represents the downtown area. “They were on a collision course in City Hall.”

The opposition focused on the project’s height, scale, scope and effect on future development in the Mansion Hill neighborhood, said Fred Mohs, a member of CNI’s steering committee, which is working with Hammes.

“Right now,” he said, “the foot doesn’t fit in the slipper.”

Neither Mohs nor Dunn would say which project details are at the heart of the discussions between the developer and neighborhood representatives. Mohs and Dunn agreed talks have been encouraging, though Mohs said if months or years are needed to agree on a final design, so be it.

Tom Fisher, president and business manager of the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council, said he does not know if his members can wait that long. Early projections for the Edgewater redevelopment estimate the work will produce nearly 1,000 jobs.

“The clock’s ticking,” Fisher said. “We need work.”

But one project cannot save the work force, Mohs said, and the developer and neighborhood should not be forced to compromise because people want work.

“That should never, ever be an excuse, just to give someone jobs,” he said. “We can’t let this city deal with a mistake for 100 years simply because people need the work. It’s unthinkable. Do something else that’s needed.”

Hoffman said there are not many opportunities, and the economic effect such a project would have on the city goes far beyond his members getting work.

“It isn’t just construction jobs,” he said. “There will be permanent jobs for Madison residents, and if you get people working and spending in Madison, that’s going to help get us out of this economic mess.”

Dunn said he’s sympathetic, but there might not be a project if he cannot get local support.

No project is worse than waiting for one, Hoffman said, but the difference between the two is getting harder to distinguish.

“It’s just a huge damper to have to wait,” he said. “It dashes spirits.”

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