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Showdown looming on Madison’s Edgewater project

By Paul Snyder

As badly as Madison-area labor unions need the work the redevelopment of the Edgewater Hotel would provide, at least one will retract its support without a project labor agreement.

“They said they were going to sign a PLA back in April,” said Scott Vaughn, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin. “To be honest, I’m disappointed they did not talk to us (Wednesday) before going to the media and announcing the appeal. We considered ourselves partners.”

Vaughn said the Building Trades notified Brookfield-based Hammes Co. Tuesday that it wanted to hear by Friday whether the developers were prepared to sign a project labor agreement for the redevelopment. Terms were not discussed.

Amy Supple, Hammes development director, said the company is still working through the details of an agreement, but she is not sure whether it will be reached by the time the Common Council reviews the project next Tuesday.

Hammes officials were expected to meet with labor union representatives Thursday afternoon to discuss the agreement. Vaughn said he would have a better idea if the unions would offer their support for the project after the meeting.

The support could be critical for the project as Tuesday’s meeting is expected to draw a sizeable public turnout of both proponents and detractors.

“We need as much support as we can get,” Supple said. “The reality of the situation is we’ve done what we can to address concerns at every level. This is what we can do, and Madison’s got to make up its mind on whether it wants this project.”

The city’s Landmarks Commission on Monday rejected a certificate of appropriateness for the project because it was too big for the surrounding neighborhood.

After city leaders and labor groups called for Hammes to request an appeal of the decision, the company did so Wednesday.

But overturning a Landmarks Commission requires 14 votes from the Common Council. Two aldermen, Michael Schumacher and Larry Palm, will be absent Tuesday.

“You’ll have 18 (council members) there,” Schumacher said. “If five do not support the project, it’s dead.”

The labor unions helped deliver 17 council votes to keep $16 million in tax incremental financing for the project in the city’s 2010 budget, Vaughn said. They should also be able to get the votes for Tuesday.

“We’ll pull out all the stops,” he said, “but Tuesday is less than a week away and we need to be able to mobilize our people soon. We can do miracles for them.”

“The language in the budget was merely a placeholder,” said Alderman Mark Clear. “It actually said the amendment does not constitute support for the project.”

But with the Common Council having to consider more than just TIF money or the Landmarks Commission’s decision, Clear said construction workers’ support of the project will be absolutely crucial to securing votes.

“They have, perhaps in the short term,” he said, “the most to gain.”

Alderwoman Lauren Cnare said she has not yet reviewed all the information for Tuesday’s meeting, but has been getting plenty of e-mails in her district that do not support the project.

“It is not a big advocacy point for people out here in the peripheral neighborhoods,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people say we shouldn’t be spending money on this.”

Those are the exact arguments Vaughn and other labor leaders fought against during the city’s budget process, while trumpeting the direly needed private-sector work the Edgewater project could bring.

But if Thursday’s meeting offers no progress, Vaughn said he and his members will be absent Tuesday.

“We’d stay out of it with the proviso that we deeply regret we were not able to reach agreement on fair labor standards,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re against the project, but we will withdraw our support.”

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