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Madison’s Edgewater project survives tuneup for final vote (UPDATE)

A rendering of the proposed Edgewater Hotel redevelopment in Madison shows the project that was under the microscope during a pair of meetings Monday night. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

A rendering of the proposed Edgewater Hotel redevelopment in Madison shows the project that was under the microscope during a pair of meetings Monday night into Tuesday morning. (Rendering courtesy of the city of Madison)

By Paul Snyder

The Edgewater Hotel redevelopment scored a split in a city panel double-header Monday night and Tuesday morning, setting the project up for a final stand before Madison’s Common Council.

“We got a boost of momentum,” said Bob Dunn, president of Brookfield-based Hammes Co., which is proposing the redevelopment. “I think we’re making the case about what the public space can become for this city, and that’s a great destination.”

The city’s Board of Estimates voted 4-3 early Tuesday morning to approve $16 million in tax-incremental financing to be used for a nearly 1 acre public terrace providing public access to Lake Mendota from Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Madison near the hotel.

The local economy will gain a lot with the city’s $16 million investment, Dunn said. He said the city should pay off the debt by 2019 with taxes generated in the district.

After the money is repaid, Dunn said, Hammes conservatively estimates a $52 million tax base gain for the city through property, room and employment taxes.

The TIF approval offset the city Landmarks Commission’s 6-1 vote late Monday night to reject a certificate of appropriateness and variances for the project.

Commission member Stu Levitan said new designs Hammes gave to the city in March outlined a larger hotel than the one the Landmarks Commission rejected in November. The commission rejected both proposals, Levitan said, because they were too big in relation to surrounding buildings in the Mansion Hill Historic District.

The project is now estimated at $98 million, up from $90.5 million, with the addition of cost projections for condos atop the hotel tower.

Levitan said he understands, especially after several hours of public testimony Monday night, that people expect the project to add to Madison’s economic base. But, he said, the commission is focused on specific development guidelines.

“Great,” he said. “Tell it to the Common Council. We’ve got an ordinance to uphold.”

According to city law, the commission’s vote derails city approval of the project unless the Common Council musters 14 votes to overturn the commission’s decision. The council, which is tentatively scheduled to vote again on the project May 18, in December managed 12 votes in an attempt to overturn the first Landmarks Commission rejection. ?But Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said Hammes is better prepared now than it was in December.

“We had three members absent at that meeting,” he said. “We also hadn’t had the approvals of the Urban Design Commission, the Plan Commission and the Board of Estimates, which we do now.”

Still, the $16 million in TIF money prompted skepticism by city aldermen, with Mike Verveer calling it “frankly ridiculous,” and Jed Sanborn saying it’s too much to pay, even for a project he supports.

“In terms of construction jobs and permanent jobs, I think it can provide a lot,” Sanborn said. “But I think we should keep the taxpayers out of it. Let it sink or swim based on the economy.”

That debate, Cieslewicz said, should be settled May 18.

“I think people feel that whether you’re for or against it,” he said, “it’s time to move on.”

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