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Edgewater money request draws Madison critics

By Paul Snyder

Two Madison Common Council members are questioning the value of Hammes Co.’s offer to trade public access to Lake Mendota for $16 million for the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment.

Alderman Mike Verveer and Alderwoman Satya Rhodes-Conway argue a city report detailing Brookfield-based Hammes Co.’s request for $16 million in tax-incremental financing did little to quell their concerns about the project.

The TIF, according to Hammes, would let the company move on the estimated $90.5 million redevelopment of the 64-year-old Edgewater Hotel. In exchange, Madison takes easement rights for some control of a lakefront terrace connecting Wisconsin Avenue to Lake Mendota near the hotel. Hammes also pledged Madison would not be responsible for terrace repairs or maintenance.

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“‘Big deal’ is my reaction,” Verveer said. “Certainly it will be a vast improvement from the staircase that’s there now, but it’s a fallacy to say there’s no lake access there or anywhere downtown, and I don’t think this is worth $16 million.”

Amy Supple, Hammes’ development director, disagreed.

“This is just a great public asset,” she said. “It’s nearly an acre of public space that can allow people to enjoy and access the waterfront, and the hotel can be a great economic and fiscal generator for the city.”

TIF districts let municipalities borrow money to subsidize developments and pay for utility and street work that serves projects. Communities then use new taxes generated by the projects to pay off the debt.

According to the TIF report issued Thursday, city staff members forecast the taxes generated by the Edgewater and other projects in the district will repay the $16 million loan by 2019.

Rhodes-Conway said Madison could find better uses for the money.

“I’m not sure why we should spend $16 million for a not-really public space,” she said. “I think we could get parkland somewhere else for that kind of money.”

Verveer and Rhodes-Conway said the problem with Hammes’ proposal is in the details.

According to a project draft management plan presented earlier this year to the city, Hammes would keep the terrace open to the public 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

However, Supple said, Hammes still could use portions of the terrace for events such as weddings. She said Hammes would have the right to close public access 15 days each year for major events such as the Fourth of July.

The city and Hammes would iron out the details of terrace control in a final management agreement. Supple said she does not expect a final agreement until the city approves the project.

Verveer said he wants the agreement first.

“I cannot support the TIF if an ironclad management agreement has not been introduced yet,” he said.

Madison’s Common Council is expected to vote on the project Tuesday, May 18. But the TIF request must first clear the city’s Board of Estimates, of which Verveer and Rhodes-Conway are members. The board is scheduled to vote on the TIF on Monday.

Mark Clear, Common Council president and board member, said it’s important not to lose sight of how the project will help Madison.

“I can recite the reasons in my sleep,” he said. “We’re talking about jobs, a benefit to the tax base and a catalyst to the community.”

But he said he knows he does not speak for the entire Board of Estimates, and he predicted plenty of debate Monday.

“I’d bring a pillow,” he said. “It’s going to be a long night.”

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