Lots of Rooms at the Inn
July 21, 2009 12:51 PM
Madison faces a nice problem to have right now. In the middle of a deep recession, there are a handful of major infill development projects currently in some stage of discussion. Our town has a reputation (sometimes earned) of turning up its nose at people who want to invest here. Let's get rid of that attitude, but let's also make sure that these developments meet our strong community standards, and let's be mindful of how they interrelate with a view toward doing what's best for the city as a whole in the long run.
Today I'd like to focus on the interrelationship between four of these major proposals. The first is the Edgewater Hotel proposal from developer Bob Dunn. Dunn's project would add $107 million in value, reinvigorate a classic Madison destination, dramatically improve public access to Lake Mendota and add more owner occupied housing on Mansion Hill. So what's not to like? Well, he proposes a tall building for the site, he's asking for tax incremental financing and, my main concern at the moment, his project might add enough rooms to stop or further complicate and delay the next project on the list.
That would be the Marcus hotel proposal on the block now occupied by the Madison Municipal Building. This project would add much needed rooms near the taxpayer-owned Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. A recent study estimated that we lost in the competition for about $50 million in business this past decade because we didn't have enough hotel rooms near the center. That business would help defray the public subsidy for Monona Terrace and help create jobs in the city. So what's the challenge here? Well, the developer proposes use of the Madison Municipal Building itself, where the city has about 60,000 square feet of office space. Those employees would have to be relocated to new space - not all bad because the current space is inefficient and not very accessible to the public. Still, it's an expensive proposition to build new office space, so we need Marcus to pay us close to market rate for the land and building. Can they make the project pencil out and give city government what it needs to replace the municipal building space?
Next we've got the Block 66 proposal from the Fiore Company. Fiore responded to a city request for downtown library plans with a whole block treatment including a new library on West Washington Avenue and two more new buildings on the site occupied by the current library. They also included a hotel in their plans, which they predict will throw off room tax revenues to help us pay for a new library. But will the hotel actually happen if the Edgewater and Marcus projects go forward? And can the New Markets Tax Credits financing that Fiore touts actually meet their optimistic expectations in a down economy?
Finally, Apex Management weighed in today with a $100 million, 300 room mixed-use project on Wilson Street. This is a relatively new proposal that I haven't seen as much detail on as the others, but at first blush it looks like an exciting proposal that deserves every bit as much consideration as the others. The central question right now: can it work with the Marcus project just down the street or is it an either/or proposition?
So these four projects, only blocks from one another on the isthmus, are all related and they face complicated city approval processes. And I'll probably need to make some decisions when I introduce my capital budget to the City Council on September 1. My goals are to add value to the city, create jobs and make our city more beautiful and vibrant, but do it in a way that we can afford. These will be tough decisions, but frankly, they're exactly the kind of problems any mayor should want to have in his city. I can't guarantee anything right now, but I think that we can work it out.