Soglin: 'We need to move forward on renovations for MMB and the parking utility.'
Plans for a new hotel for Monona Terrace seemed to suffer a major setback this week, when Mayor Paul Soglin -- who has long championed the idea -- announced that he would seek to move forward on other elements of the Judge Doyle Square project next year.
But even critics of a new subsidized hotel doubt that the fight is over and expect it to resume next year after the mayoral election.
Soglin told the city's Board of Estimates that his 2015 capital budget will include funding for renovating the Madison Municipal Building and replacing the aging Government East parking garage. The news comes after the city's negotiating team failed to get developer Bob Dunn to lower the city's contribution for the hotel portion of the project. Dunn has asked for $44.6 million in tax incremental financing for the hotel, which was proposed to be sited behind the Madison Municipal Building.
On Monday night, Soglin told reporters: "We need to move forward on renovations for MMB and the parking utility."
Asked why the city has not been able to come to an agreement with Dunn, Soglin said, "The developer has a concept that he wants to advance."
Despite the impasse, the Board of Estimates agreed to give project manager George Austin more time to work on a deal, extending the negotiating period until mid-October. If a deal is reached, funding could still be included in next year's budget. However, few council members seemed confident that would happen.
Soglin did not have details for how much he'll budget for the Municipal Building and parking garage.
A preliminary estimate found it will cost $25.7 million to renovate the building. Thomas Woznick, the city's parking operations manager, says the current estimate to rebuild the 57-year-old Government East ramp is around $21 million, including $1 million for demolition.
A new garage would include retail space on Pinckney Street, although the parking utility does not expect to pay for that part of the project, Woznick says.
"All along, as part of this process, the city has voiced interest that we want retail on Pinckney Street, we want Pinckney to become an active part of downtown," Woznick says. "Now you have an opportunity to do that."
The garage would also be built to support future development on top, whatever it might be. (Dunn proposed high-end residential, although other developers have proposed offices.)
Ald. David Ahrens, a leading critic of using public money for a hotel, says the debate will rage on. "This is far from over," Ahrens says. "This literally is round one. After April, we may have round two."
But he says the project is less toxic for Soglin as he seeks reelection next April. However, one of Soglin's opponents, Ald. Scott Resnick, says he won't let the project go as a campaign issue.
"There's no way to avoid the Judge Doyle Square conversation in the election. It's a major decision the city is going to face," Resnick says. "This is an issue that's going to be discussed, not only in the mayoral election, but in each aldermanic race."
Resnick also says the city should know what the vision for the project is before moving ahead on portions of it.
The mayor counters that there's no downside to moving ahead with two clearly defined elements of Judge Doyle -- the Municipal Building and Government East. Says Soglin: "I have yet to hear one reason based on design or economics as to why we don't move forward with the Municipal Building and Government East."