Let's step back and think about the meaning of the latest setback for the Edgewater project, and what it might mean for the development of our city and for the working families who would have benefited from the project.
Frankly, it's a stretch to say that this proves that Madison can't put two bricks together. I can point to any number of projects that we approved while I was mayor (Hilldale, Sequoya Commons, University Square, Monroe Commons, Kennedy Place and many other smaller developments) and some since.
But sometimes an issue assumes symbolic meaning beyond its literal one. Whether it can be supported by the facts or not, the Common Council decision Tuesday night to deny a $16 million TIF level for the project in the city's 2012 budget, contributes to an unfortunately enduring narrative about Madison's endless and twisting processes.
In my view the Edgewater was important for lots of reasons: it would refurbish the historic original hotel, eliminate an ugly '70s addition, provide an exciting new public open space on the lake, add significantly to the tax base at a time when our tax base is stagnant, and provide jobs both temporary and permanent.
Let me just focus on that last point: I perceived a strong sense of elitism about the arguments against those jobs.
The trades (plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.) are hurting badly in this economy. In some trades, one out of three workers is unemployed right now.
The project would produce good paying construction jobs. Those who said those jobs weren't permanent don't realize that people make good careers in the construction trades out of a series of temporary jobs. That's how those careers work. That's why this project was the biggest single priority for the Building Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin.
Those who said that the permanent jobs would be entry-level service industry jobs need to realize that the unemployment rate for college graduates is only about 4%. Entry-level jobs have their place in giving people without college degrees a first step on the ladder to success.
One of the great ironies of this debate is that it was precisely those alders, activists and editorialists most like to present themselves as being concerned about poverty and labor who opposed the project, despite the fact that it that was so staunchly supported by labor unions and had such a great potential to provide jobs for people who most needed them.
There was a strong sense of elitism among those alders, those activists and The Capital Times (the journalistic equivalent of a spoiled trust fund kid). They were essentially saying that they knew better than the people who actually get their hands dirty in the trades or the unemployed people without a PhD. who would have gladly taken one of those entry level jobs in the hotel.
Let's not forget that we are at this point only because a millionaire had enough money to file a frivolous lawsuit to slow the project, simply because he didn't like the obstruction to the view from the front porch of his mansion. If that's not the epitome of elitism, then I don't what is.
My sense is that it's not over. I doubt that Bob Dunn has come this far with his dream only to give up now. My guess is that there's more life in this project. For the sake of those who really care about labor, really care about doing something about poverty, let's hope so. Let's not let an eccentric millionaire, a trust fund newspaper, and a handful of elitists kill a project that can do so much good for Madison.