The Edgewater Hotel redevelopment project polarized Madison last year, pitting neighborhood preservationists against development interests in a protracted battle that led to several all-night city council meetings.
The development interests ostensibly won the fight when the project secured council approval in May 2010.
Since then, the redevelopment has been delayed by a lawsuit brought by the hotel's neighbor, Fred Mohs. The lawsuit is now before the District Court of Appeals.
The developer, Hammes Co., has yet to break ground on the project. And if it doesn't soon, Hammes will have to go back before the council to get elements of the project reapproved. That could lead to another round of all-night meetings and contentious debate. With a new mayor and several new council members, the outcome could be different.
The $98 million project would add a nine-story tower, a lakefront terrace and underground parking to the hotel. In approving it, the council okayed $16 million in tax incremental financing. If Hammes doesn't break ground this year, the funding will have to be approved for next year's budget.
There are also several approvals that come with a time limit. The council approved a Planned Unit Development zoning variance, a conditional use permit for the waterfront area, and a subdivision of the Edgewater property and the neighboring National Guardian Life Insurance building.
All of these will expire if construction isn't under way by March 2013, says Tim Parks of the city's planning department.
Bob Dunn, president of Hammes Co., says the company continues to put "considerable effort" into the project. "At this point there's one and only one issue standing in our way, and that is Mr. Mohs' meritless lawsuit," he says. "Once that's done, we'll get started."
Mohs' lawsuit argues that the city improperly overturned the Landmarks Commission's decision against the project. Mohs says that briefs have been filed and that both sides are waiting to see if the judge will hear oral arguments.
"The dust hasn't settled yet," Mohs says. "A lot of people maybe just want to put this nightmare behind them and do something else. This is almost three years going on Edgewater, and it almost ground the wheels of government to a halt."
Fall Ride back on
Mayor Paul Soglin's honeymoon with the city came to an abrupt end when he canceled the Ride the Drive event scheduled for September.
Soglin said that many stores and restaurants complained that the event - which closes downtown streets to vehicles, allowing people to use them for biking, skateboarding and walking - disrupted business.
But after he canceled the event, several city alders complained that the mayor didn't consult with them. And after attending the June 5 Ride the Drive - the Wisconsin State Journal quoted one cyclist shouting "boo, Mr. Mayor" at Soglin - the mayor has had a change of heart.
City staff are planning to hold a fall Ride the Drive in downtown Madison after all, though a date has not been finalized, says Kevin Briski, Madison's parks superintendent. Some 30,000 people attended the June 5 Ride, which is typical. The September 2010 Ride brought out 50,000 people, thanks in part to an appearance by Lance Armstrong.
Briski says the city's vision for the event is simple: "The idea is to see the streets of Madison from another point of view," whether it be on "bicycles, skateboards or rollerblades."
The city plans to continue making changes so that Ride the Drive doesn't prevent motorists from visiting downtown during the day.
For next year, the city plans to have two Ride the Drives, one downtown and a second on the northeast side of town. In future years, the plan is to hold the fall Ride in a different part of town.
Downtown Plan crawls forward
City planner Bill Fruhling has thrown up his hands on the timing of a completed Downtown Plan. In the works since 2008, the plan will present a vision of Madison's downtown that encompasses the arts, business, government, education, architecture, public spaces and transportation.
"I quit predicting a date when that would happen," he says, before making a rough prediction anyway: "But it will be later this summer."
The plan was slowed by the election of a new mayor and the hiring of Steven Cover as the city's director of Planning and Community and Economic Development.
"We wanted to bring them up to speed and work with them," Fruhling says. "We've been working on this for, like, three years, and there's a lot of background and considerations to what went into what we have right now."
Once the plan is introduced to the council, it will make the rounds through several city committees and public hearings.