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Edgewater neighbors pitch fit over possible tent

A private property sign is posted recently in front of the Edgewater Hotel in Madison. Neighbors are concerned over possible tents that will set up on the property. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

By James Briggs

After more than a year of debate surrounding the $98 million redevelopment of Madisons Edgewater Hotel, the last municipal hurdle for developer Hammes Co. came down to a mythical tent.

Madison has approved an operating agreement, which dictates public access to Lake Mendota. The agreement stalled for more than a month as neighbors complained first about a lack of time to review the document and then about the possibility the hotel could erect a tent for special events and leave it up all summer.

“What we’re worried about is great, big tents that just sit out there and block the view,” said Fred Mohs, co-founder of neighborhood group Capitol Neighborhoods Inc., and association for the neighborhood that includes the Edgewater Hotel. “We’d like to have some standards.”

Mohs asked the city to place size limits on temporary structures. Madison’s Common Council declined to include limitations in the document, in part because Amy Supple, development director for Brookfield-based Hammes, said the company hasn’t even begun to consider what such structures might look like.

“There are several events I can think of — something like a sailing event or a bike event — over the course of the week that you can have several elements set up,” Supple said. “I really want us to have the flexibility to operate and host events on the terrace.”

Supple noted there are no such restrictions on Monona Terrace, another Madison venue that hosts outdoor lakefront events.

“The ability to have flexibility in the programming is key to our business model,” she said. “We need the ability to be competitive and to function like any other event facility in the city.”

Even with an operating agreement, Hammes still isn’t ready to put shovels in the ground. Capitol Neighborhoods still could appeal a judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Madison used illegal processes to approve the Edgewater project.

Illegal or not, the process continues to draw criticism, even from members of the Common Council. Alderwoman Julia Kerr said it is absurd to still be debating the Edgewater months after the city agreed to award the project a $16 million subsidy in the form of a tax incremental financing district.

“The fact that we’re having a discussion about this multimillion-dollar plaza and tents at this point, when we’ve already agreed to give the loan, is kind of silly,” Kerr said. “Whatever $16 million is buying in this public plaza, we should have nailed down way in advance of this.

“Perhaps the foremost reason why I voted against the TIF was because this public access agreement wasn’t nailed down.”

Mark Hoffman, a business manager for Electrical Workers Local 159, said he doesn’t care about tents. He just wants to “get my unemployed members back to work.”

“We need this project,” Hoffman said.

Mohs, though, warned the removable structure issue will come up again when the city has less power to deal with it.

“We know taking a tent up and down costs money,” he said. “We know hotel management will try and save money, so they’ll leave it up as long as they can.

“We don’t think the hotel making extra money for renting a tent is worth having the public disappointed when they’re riding up Wisconsin Avenue, thinking they’re going to see the lake.”

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