The scrutiny comes as Ald. Mike Verveer proposes making changes to the project goals, in order to address criticism that has been growing in the community.
Judge Doyle Square is located in a two-block area adjacent to Monona Terrace and includes replacing the Government East ramp, building a headquarters hotel to complement the convention center, as well as constructing offices and retail.
Two proposals that were selected as finalists are being considered by the city -- one by the Journeyman Group from Texas and the other by JDS Development (headed by Bob Dunn) from Wisconsin. A committee has been evaluating the proposals and will begin serious deliberations at a Thursday night meeting (PDF), with a recommendation to the Common Council expected in February.
Critics have questioned the high city subsidy and questioned whether a new hotel is needed at all. A group comprised of residents and another of business interests are now taking a closer look at the proposals.
The citizens' group, Citizens Against Subsidized Hotels (using the acronym CA$H), initially formed last year as Question Judge Doyle Square. Andy Olsen, the group's spokesman and a former city alder and Dane County supervisor, says the group's original intent was to encourage scrutiny of the project. But now, Olsen says, it is committed to stopping city funding of a hotel.
"At this point, the reason for the group to exist is to eliminate the subsidy for a luxury hotel, the second one, tied to the Monona Terrace," Olsen says, referring to Hilton Madison Monona Terrace, which opened in 2001. "This is a bad deal for the citizens of Madison."
The group has over 170 followers on its Facebook page, and Olsen says there are about eight core organizing members. "We're looking for more volunteers."
"What do we get back for the tax increase and parking fee increases? We don't see strong benefits for city residents," Olsen says. "We've got a big problem with homelessness. And we're going to spend all this money for a luxury hotel. That really is a jarring contrast between the needs and the priorities."
The Alliance for Madison's Future, comprised primarily of business interests, is taking a much softer approach, says the group's spokesman, lobbyist Gary Goyke.
Although Judge Doyle Square was the catalyst for the group to form, Goyke says the group is "really a vehicle for us to meet with decision makers to be constructive and not be a naysayer."
The group is made up of people in the hospitality, restaurant, development, transportation and office business sectors. He adds that members have "great respect" for both Monona Terrace and Mayor Paul Soglin, who is in favor of Judge Doyle Square.
"There's no opposition to a new hotel. We're saying, 'This debate is taking place, what do we think about it?'" But, Goyke adds, "The word 'subsidized' is going to be an issue. It's unclear as to what that all means."
Ald. Verveer -- long a supporter of the project -- is not surprised by the new scrutiny and opposition, saying it’s consistent with previous city-supported hotel projects, including the Monona Terrace Hilton and the Edgewater.
But Verveer says at Thursday's committee meeting he will propose a way forward by revising the project's goals and allowing both developers to revisit their proposals.
Although he did not want to comment on the specifics of his ideas until speaking with council colleagues, he said he would advocate for elements in both proposals, while reducing the overall cost.
"I think that many of the points that opponents have raised are very important for the city to address" Verveer says. "They've raised some salient issues. I'm hoping that we can find a path forward."