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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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Edgewater recap: Hard questions remain
Fred Mohs: 'We're kind of running out of options.'
Fred Mohs: 'We're kind of running out of options.'
Credit:Eric Tadsen

For anybody who has been following the debate on redeveloping the Edgewater Hotel, Tuesday night's Common Council meeting, which stretched almost to 8 Wednesday morning, was both exasperating and oddly compelling.

More than 60 people spoke, hashing out old arguments and making passionate appeals - for historic preservation, upholding the civic process, the city's future, progress and economic development.

In the end, the council pushed the project forward. It overturned a Landmarks Commission decision not to grant a certificate of appropriateness; expanded an existing tax incremental financing district and approved $16 million in TIF financing; and passed other amendments and permits.

All of this was good news for Edgewater developer Hammes Sports and Entertainment. But anyone hoping for a definitive end to the debate will probably be disappointed. It's likely to rage on and affect city politics for years, if not decades.

Here are some of the hard questions that remain:

  • Will the neighbors opposed to the project, led by developer Fred Mohs, take their fight to the courts? Mohs told the Wisconsin State Journal he didn't know, but added, "We're kind of running out of options."
  • How will this affect the Landmarks Commission? When asked what effect overturning the commission would have, member Stu Levitan said it wouldn't be good because it would suggest "we did something wrong." He also said it would likely affect other historic neighborhoods. Will developers now regularly come to Common Council to overrule Landmarks Commission decisions?
  • Project supporters have warned that refusing the Edgewater deal would have a chilling effect on development. Will approval, conversely, open up downtown to more development? If so, what kind?
  • With city approvals in place, will Hammes be able to secure the needed financing? The city must recommit half of the TIF funding in November during the budget process, and that could delay financing and further stall the project (see Bill Lueders' report).
  • Other hotel owners spoke out against the project, questioning Hammes' figures and saying a renovated Edgewater will merely cannibalize patrons from other downtown hotels, not draw more visitors to the city. Certainly, the project will alter the downtown hotel market. Will other hotel projects proposed near Monona Terrace materialize now?

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