The Edgewater Hotel redevelopment project, which has consumed Madison politics for years, returned to the Common Council Tuesday night. But this time the council failed to muster the votes for the project, which appears dead.
The council approved the $98 million project in an all-night session in May 2010. Blowback from that decision helped Mayor Paul Soglin defeat incumbent Dave Cieslewicz, who had vigorously promoted the project. In his 2012 budget, Soglin cut tax incremental financing for the hotel from $16 million to $3.3 million.
Ten council members sponsored a budget amendment to restore the TIF funding during Tuesday's meeting. The council heard hours of public testimony and asked questions of staff but did not debate the measure. Soglin called for a vote shortly after midnight and the council deadlocked, 10-10. The mayor refused to break the tie, allowing the motion to fail.
"We'll have an ugly hotel sitting on our lake until a storm sweeps it away," council president Lauren Cnare, who supported the project, said after the meeting.
Of the members who were on the council for the May 2010 debate, only Ald. Larry Palm changed his vote - from "yes" to "no." "At that time, enough people had sprinkled their fairy dust around that I thought, 'Okay, I'll give it a try.'" But in the past year and a half, Palm decided the project had little benefit to the public and little support in his district.
Soglin said after the meeting that public support for Edgewater had been exaggerated. His office received 154 emails about the project, of which his staff determined 107 had some connection to the developer or the business community.
There's still an outside chance developer Bob Dunn of Hammes Co. could get the funding this year. The TIF financing was approved in this year's budget, and Dunn announced over the weekend that he'd secured the private financing portion for the deal. But it would require a rush to complete the necessary documentation needed.
City Attorney Michael May told the council, "It's well nigh impossible we could complete all of the documents by the end of the year."
And Dunn told the council that without city help, the project is over. "In my opinion, that is a very serious missed opportunity for the city."
100 block plans get tepid reception
Two city commissions got a first look at plans for the 100 block of State Street Monday. Although it was just an informational meeting, the comments were overwhelmingly negative.
Overture Center benefactors Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland have proposed razing half of the 100 block across from the Overture Center and replacing it with a glass office building and plaza, fronting Fairchild Street. Faades on State Street would be reconstructed.
"The building they want to build on the back of the street is so uninspiring. It seemed like it could be an office park," says Ald. Marsha Rummel, who sits on both the Landmarks and Urban Design commissions. "If they really want us to accept the offer of tearing down historic landmarks, what they build has to be fabulous."
If the plan is approved, two landmarks, the Castle & Doyle Building at 125 State St. and the Schubert Building at 120 W. Mifflin St., would be razed. Also slated for demolition is 122 W. Mifflin St., not a landmark but treasured by many preservationists. Several commission members asked if there was a way to save that building.
Project manager George Austin says the building needs to go to make way for the plaza that would sit across Fairchild from Overture. "That will be a difficult thing to find middle ground on," he says.
The plaza would be landscaped, rising in stages from the sidewalk. There may be a patio for a restaurant, but it will otherwise be private, not public space. Austin says the space will be designed to discourage public use.
"There won't be any benches or seating, other than what's at the restaurant," he says. "It won't be inviting for someone to linger, other than to get into the building."
Downtown Plan emphasizes lakes
There are scores of recommendations in Madison's draft Downtown Plan, which was submitted to the Common Council this week as a guide for the city's development over the next two decades. But there are two recommendations in the 133-page document that city planner Bill Fruhling thinks could be "a real game-changer."
The city has been drafting the plan since 2008, and in more than 100 meetings, residents consistently asked for more lake access.
"The way downtown has developed, it hasn't really engaged the lakes in a positive way," Fruhling says. "John Nolen Drive and the railroad tracks really make it challenging for people downtown to get to the [Monona] lakefront."
A solution the planners devised is creating a "signature city park" at Law Park, the strip of land east of Monona Terrace along John Nolen Drive. Planners recommend connecting it to downtown via two wide land bridges over John Nolen, building a pavilion and installing temporary boat docks, so boaters can come downtown to eat and shop.
Alongside Lake Mendota, planners have proposed connecting the UW's Union Terrace with James Madison Park via a lakefront walkway. The city has the right-of-way for much of this lakefront property already.
The downtown plan will now go to 14 city committees for input before heading back to the Common Council early next year.