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Edgewater rejection frightens unions (UPDATE)

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 proposed Edgewater Hotel in Madison.  (Rendering courtesy of the Hammes Co.)

By Paul Snyder

If the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment is dead, so too is one of the best opportunities for Madison-area labor leaders to put their members to work.

“It’s going to be catastrophic to tell you the truth,” said Scott Vaughn, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin. “We’ve had some unions not put an apprentice on since September 2008.

“Even though we’re still interviewing apprentices, it doesn’t make sense to have a candidate on a list if you know there’s not going to be any work out there.”

Representatives from project developer Hammes Co., Brookfield, did not return repeated calls for comment before deadline Tuesday to explain their next move after the Madison Landmarks Commission on Monday night rejected a variance for construction and a certificate of appropriateness for the estimated $90 million project.

“I think they’re still probably regrouping,” said Tom Fisher, president and business manager of the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council. “City Hall has already been in touch with us, and we will lobby to keep this project going. We need the jobs.”

Stuart Levitan, a member of the seven-person Landmarks Commission, agreed the project would give the city a boost. Yet he was one of five commission members to vote against the certificate of appropriateness because of the project size and visual effect on the city’s Mansion Hill neighborhood.

“The reality is we are sworn to uphold the visual compatibility component of this ordinance,” Levitan said. “That’s the first listed criteria that has to be honored, and our job is to preserve the integrity of the ordinance.”

The commission’s action leaves Hammes with three choices: appeal the decision to the Common Council, design a smaller project or kill the plans.

Hammes has already redesigned the version of the project introduced earlier this year, scaling back the size and the cost estimate by roughly $10 million.

The redesign also reduced the estimated number of construction jobs needed for the project from more than 1,000 to about 750, Fisher said. But laborers did not protest.

“That’s still a ton of jobs in today’s economy,” he said. “It’s crazy that one group can stop a project like this. I don’t think it’s a secret why people look for business elsewhere.”

Should Hammes appeal the commission’s decision, Vaughn said, he’s confident the project has enough votes on the Common Council. Overturning the decision requires a two-thirds majority — or 14 votes — and Vaughn said labor groups lined up 17 votes just to keep in Madison’s 2010 and 2011 budgets $16 million in tax-incremental financing for the project.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz also supports the Edgewater because, he has said, the project will create construction jobs and opposition to the project is unreasonable. Cieslewicz did not return calls before deadline Tuesday to say if he will encourage Hammes to appeal.

Fisher said if the commission’s ruling prevents Hammes from appealing or redesigning the project, work in the Madison region will be in short supply for years.

“There’s not a lot on the books coming forward,” he said, “and that gives us no opportunity to bring new people in.”

The city, in its budget, approved a $37 million central library project, but Fisher and Vaughn said they do not know how soon the project will start given the $10 million the Library Board still needs to raise.

“We’ve got to continue working to get it built,” Vaughn said of the Edgewater. “I certainly hope this isn’t the end of the fight.”

6 comments

  1. To be fair, Levitan *did* vote in favor of a second motion, which was to grant the cerfiticate based on a variance of the visual compatibility standard. But that motion failed on a 2-4 vote.

  2. Thanks for noting that, Mark.
    FYI readers, Mayor has since publicly called on Hammes to appeal. Mark, do you think they will, and what will happen?

  3. Hammes has just filed the appeal. That means the Common Council will take it up on Tuesday evening. 14 votes are required to overturn the Landmarks Commission decision. Two alders will be absent. I predict a very close vote.

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