For anybody who has been following the Edgewater debate, Tuesday night's Common Council meeting, which stretched almost to 8 Wednesday morning, was both exasperating and oddly compelling. Not quite as captivating as an episode of Lost, but the suspense over what would happen made it hard to turn off.
More than 60 people spoke at the meeting, hashing out all the old arguments and making passionate appeals - for historic preservation, upholding the civic process, the city's future, progress and economic development. And there were a few lighter moments in the groggy morning hours, as when Ald. Larry Palm corrected himself for calling the project "Edgewater, I mean, Edgewood," but then realized he had it right the first time.
In the end, the council pushed the project forward, by overturning a Landmarks Commission decision not to grant a certificate of appropriateness; it also expanded an existing tax incremental financing district and approved $16 million in TIF financing, and approved the planned unit development, conditional-use permit and an amendment to the 1965 ordinance that vacated a portion of the Wisconsin Avenue for the hotel.
The council also voted down a passionate appeal from Ald. Brian Solomon placing conditions on the TIF funding, asking the hotel to provide a portion of jobs that exceed the minimum wage, among other things, along with annual reports on working conditions.
All of this was certainly good news for Edgewater developer, Hammes Sports and Entertainment. But anyone hoping for a definitive end to the debate will probably be disappointed. It's likely to rage on and affect city politics for years, if not decades. As Ald. Mark Clear said before adjourning the meeting, "We've made history here tonight."
In the near future, at least, some questions remain.
- Will the neighbors opposed to the project, led by developer Fred Mohs, take their fight to the courts? Mohs told the Wisconsin State Journal he didn't know, but added, "We're kind of running out of options."
- How will this impact the Landmarks Commission? When asked what affect overturning the commission would have, Stu Levitan, a member of the commission, said he didn't know, but added that it wouldn't be good because it would suggest "we did something wrong." He also said it would likely have an affect on other historic neighborhoods in the city. Will developers now regularly come to Common Council to overrule Landmarks Commission decisions?
- Supporters of the project have warned all along that refusing the Edgewater deal would have a chilling effect on development in Madison. Will approval, conversely, open up downtown to more development? And if so, what kind?
- With city approvals in place, will Hammes be able to secure the needed financing? The city will have to commit half of the TIF funding in November during the budget process, which could delay financing and further stall the project. See the report by Bill Lueders.
- Other hotel owners spoke out against the project, questioning Hammes' figures and saying a renovated Edgewater will merely cannibalize patrons from other downtown hotels, not draw more visitors to the city. It'll be years before we know whether that will happen, but the project is certain to alter the downtown hotel market. Will other hotel projects proposed near Monona Terrace materialize now?