A pair of prominent downtown players are proposing a rival redevelopment vision for the Edgewater Hotel. The concept by local architect Kenton Peters and downtown booster Troy Thiel would essentially take the 11-story tower proposed by Hammes Sports and Entertainment and turn it sideways, addressing concerns about various ordinances limiting building height.
The plan would entail the same number of additional rooms but be just six stories tall, and from the street would appear to be underground. Thiel, a Realtor and chair of the city of Madison's Downtown Coordinating Committee, says that's a better way to go.
"If you're way up, it's windy as heck. You don't have a patio to sit out on," says Thiel, who also serves on several key Downtown Madison Inc. committees. "Thematically, that discounts the water. I would argue that they could charge more, and there would be more demand for it, if it were intimate with the water."
Like the Hammes Co. plan proposed by developer Bob Dunn, the new concept would expand onto the National Guardian Life Insurance property adjacent to the hotel. A series of terraces would reach increasingly farther out toward a pedestrian walkway to James Madison Park.
"So you'd have a one-of-a-kind hotel in the United States, versus the existing plan, which is Anyplace, U.S.A.," says Thiel. "It's just plopped right there next to the lakefront. I don't want to call that lazy. I just want to call it a different vision."
Adds Peters, "It's a better idea than what Dunn is thinking of."
Hammes Sports ignored a request for comment, which doesn't surprise Ald. Mike Verveer.
"The response at all of the meetings, both public and private, by the Hammes Co. has been [to] cut the conversation off," says Verveer. "I don't think that's very healthy."
Thiel and Peters have no financial interest in what they term "an alternative concept" for the Edgewater site. They say they just want to promote public discussion, working off an unrealized project Peters designed for the site 40 years ago.
Often called "visionary" in the press, Peters has been involved in more than 100 projects, including Madison's federal courthouse, the former Famous Footwear headquarters, Marina Condominiums and the pioneering downtown Union Transfer condos.
"Kenton is extremely creative," says Verveer. "It's not the first time he's tried to assist in difficult projects by thinking outside of the box."
Thiel says he and Peters have approached Dunn and National Guardian Life about their concept, to no avail. This week Thiel met with neighborhood reps about the idea, feeling it may be time to take it public. Given the concerns that have been raised over the Hammes plan, he thinks it may be time to say: "Wait, stop, is there a better way?"
Ald. Bridget Maniaci is wary. "I think it's just kind of a concept [Peters is] throwing down on paper," she says. "He's free to bring it up, but I think that those questions have already been explored on this property."
The Hammes proposal, though only recently made public, appears to have the inside track. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz says he supports the $109 million project, including $16 million in public support.
Landmark X, the Hammes Co. entity behind the project, last week belatedly filed lobbying reports showing it spent $112,060 on lobbying from July 20, 2008, to June 30, 2009.
But Verveer thinks the alternative is worth considering.
"There are myriad concerns of constituents, of which I think height is the most pressing," he says. "As of today Hammes has seemingly had absolutely no interest in discussing the height. But I think they may end up realizing that if we don't discuss it in realistic terms they may not have a project approved."