Mayor Paul Soglin wants to reassess the contentious Judge Doyle Square project and reexamine what the city actually needs. But he remains opposed to turning the Madison Municipal Building into a hotel, which is the centerpiece of one of the proposals.
Soglin's concerns notwithstanding, on Feb. 3 a committee is scheduled to recommend one of two developers for the downtown project, which includes a luxury hotel to complement Monona Terrace, offices, housing, retail and a rebuilt Government East parking garage. Soglin says a delay might be inevitable as the city rethinks what it needs -- especially in a hotel -- and how to pay for it.
"What I'm recommending may result in delays," Soglin says. "But we've got to get this thing right. I want us to reexamine the size of the hotel and the type of services it provides."
Echoing suggestions from Ald. Mike Verveer, Soglin says he'd like to redefine the project's goals and send it back to the developers for comment.
Bob Dunn of Hammes Corporation has proposed a $159 million deal that would convert the Madison Municipal Building into a grand hotel, with a rooftop restaurant and a "food emporium" on the first floor. The city had not intended to make the Municipal Building part of the project, but Dunn proposed it anyway and won over some city officials. Meanwhile, Texas-based Journeyman Group proposes a $179 million project that would leave the Municipal Building as city offices and build a new hotel behind it.
Dunn's proposal got high marks from the city's planning staff, which called it an "exceptional design" that "creates a unique heritage tourism destination." Last week, the city's engineering staff urged a different direction, telling the Judge Doyle Square committee that renovating the Municipal Building for city offices (estimated at $25.9 million) would greatly improve and activate the area.
Jeanne Hoffman, the city's facilities manager, told the committee: "We believe that a hotel is not the only way to enliven the corridor." She said other cities have incorporated art galleries, performance spaces and revenue-generating venues like coffee shops into their municipal buildings.
Ald. Mark Clear, a fan of Dunn's hotel idea, suspects there is a movement to derail the project.
"I think someone's trying to kill... the whole project," Clear says. "I'm concerned that the mayor wants to put this off until after the mayoral election next year. It has the potential to be his Edgewater."
Fighting over the Edgewater Hotel renovation in 2009 and 2010 is widely believed to have cost former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz his seat in the 2011 election to Soglin.
But Soglin had nothing to do with the engineering staff's report, say Hoffman and the mayor himself.
"If you look at any large issue that happens in this city, there are going to be constituents and stakeholders who have differing opinions," Hoffman says. "That holds true within city government, where there can be conflicting opinions."
Verveer is hopeful that the city will reach a recommendation on the project at the Feb. 3 meeting, saying: "That's still the plan."
Clear, who doesn't sit on the committee, fears otherwise. "I think the committee is heading toward a non-decision," he says. "I think that will effectively kill the project or we'll go back and do a new [request for proposals]."
[Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect that Soglin says he is not seeking to delay the Judge Doyle Square project, but rather that his reexamination may result in delays.]