There is such thing as luck when it comes to the Edgewater saga.
The new Edgewater reopened in a massive gala last Thursday.
It is a beautiful space -- with some really pricey rooms. Honestly, I'm not sure who can afford these amenities, but I'm sure there must be some people who can. I mean, Madison Magazine still has a readership, so I know that the affluence market exists; it's probably made up of people who made wiser career choices than freelance writer.
I do know one thing -- both the developers and the city got really, really lucky in this deal. This opening is the culmination to a multi-year saga spanning two mayors that ended with the city saying yes and then no to a $17 million TIF loan only to have private investors step in at the 11th hour and provide the needed funding.
Bob Dunn and the Hammes Company should be happy that they didn't get a new round of close scrutiny that would have come with public TIF money.
The Edgewater fell months behind its original targeted reopening date. Some elements were rushed to completion for last Thursday's gala. The pier won't even be constructed until next year. The local media didn't cover this much, but the delays would have received much more attention if the public had $17 million invested in the project. That issue would have likely played a role in the city elections next spring.
Similarly, if the hotel isn't as profitable as projected, the lack of return on the TIF loan would have been a city problem for years to come. All that opulence of a new hotel would have been examined under a magnifying glass. And the potential of the Edgewater being branded a failure by public officials and the media would not have helped management book rooms and events.
Now, the Edgewater can build its new business -- the only scrutiny it has to worry about is a bad Yelp review.
Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison Common Council got really lucky too.
Without the last minute investment of private funds, a new Edgewater was dead. It was like the end of Star Wars when Darth Vader was about to blow away Luke Skywalker until the Millennium Falcon came roaring in for a last minute save. In this analogy, Han Solo was played by American Girl founder Pleasant Rowland, while her husband W. Jerome Frautschi was Chewie.
Under either storyline, the original plan would have failed without a last minute intervention. Without a change of heart -- either from local philanthropists or a scoundrel with a heart of gold -- the remodel doesn't happen or the rebel base on Yavin IV is destroyed.
If the project had stalled, if Edgewater was now an abandoned husk of a building, that would have its own set of consequences. Edgewater had been limping along for years as a shadow of its former glory -- now imagine a worst case scenario where it would have shuttered. The image of an empty Edgewater would have been front and center on every campaign flyer run by Soglin's opponents.
The city of Madison and developers alike would be wise to ask the following questions in the wake of the Edgewater saga. TIF is a powerful tool, but is it the only option? The appropriate option? What are the political and economic costs of saying yes or no to a TIF request?
I can't say if Madison and the Edgewater's owners will be able to attract the visitors and events needed to support this luxury hotel, but hopefully they will. Luck has certainly been on their side so far.