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New Edgewater design faces old complaints

An artist's rendering of the revamped Edgewater Hotel in Madison. Hammes will present an informational meeting to the city’s Plan Commission on Monday.
An artist’s rendering of the Edgewater Hotel in Madison. Brookfield-based Hammes Co. will present an informational meeting to the city’s Plan Commission on Monday. (Rendering courtesy of the Hammes Co.)

By Paul Snyder

The Edgewater Hotel developer is kicking a revamped design back to Madison planners, who now must judge the project apart from politics and neighborhood complaints.

“We’ve seen other projects that have been contentious, and I think we do a good job of balancing local interest and input,” said Todd Barnett, vice chairman of the city’s Urban Design Commission. “But there’s no question this is a project that’s important for the neighborhood and city. It’s a landmark building with a major presence.”

Brookfield-based Hammes Co. on Monday will present to the Madison Plan Commission the revised plans for an Edgewater expansion. The developer on Wednesday will seek initial approval from the city’s Urban Design Commission.

Hammes spokeswoman Sarah Carpenter said the company is confident the city commissions will approve the redesign.

The new plans cut the project cost from $109 million to $93 million by decreasing the number of rooms from 228 to 190 and reducing the building height from 11 to eight stories.

This is Hammes’ second try for project approval. The company withdrew its original proposal in September after the downtown neighborhood collective Capitol Neighborhoods Inc. opposed the design. The project would be built next to Lake Mendota in Madison’s Mansion Hill Historic District, which is a part of CNI.

Fred Mohs, a CNI member, said the new design is not good enough.

“It’s a good-looking building,” he said of Hammes’ latest proposal. “But it’s still too tall, too big and has no setback from the water.”

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz on Thursday disagreed, calling the latest round of neighborhood opposition unreasonable. Cieslewicz has proposed a $16 million city investment in the project through tax incremental financing.

The TIF would let the city borrow money to pay for construction of a lakeside terrace on the Edgewater property and public access to the terrace and lake. Madison then would have 27 years to use the expected increase in property taxes from the Edgewater property to pay off the debt.

Alderman Michael Schumacher, a member of the Plan Commission, said it’s too soon for the city to commit to such a large investment.

“I don’t like when it’s given as a given,” he said. “I’m not against the Edgewater project, but we should be using TIF based on the way a developer approaches a project and the city.”

But Schumacher said he will save his TIF concerns for another day because, as a commissioner, he must focus on the building’s height, whether the project meets zoning standards and whether the Edgewater’s proximity to the shoreline will be a problem.

But those big-picture issues will not go away and, ultimately, will determine if the project passes or fails. Schumacher said he will be waiting should the project proposal reach the Common Council.

“I suppose there’s an irony,” he said, “in the sense that I might be supportive of it as a Plan Commission member and not supportive as an alder.”

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