May 18, 2010 2:06 PM
After over a year of consideration and 20 city meetings on the topic (not counting neighborhood meetings and less formal get togethers) the Edgewater hotel project is up for final Council votes on Tuesday.
It will actually be five separate votes with a staggering amount of detailed information behind each one. But I'm confident of approval if council members just allow themselves to think and act as the policy makers they are. The policy question comes down to this: Do the jobs, tax base, increased public access and revitalization of a key asset in our city outweigh any concerns we might have about the size of the new addition that makes all that possible?
For me, it's not a close call.
Trades workers are experiencing massive unemployment. This project will put many of them to work.
The city of Madison is weathering historic declines in property value. This is a $90 million investment.
The Edgewater is an iconic hotel at a key site on Lake Mendota. This project will bring it new life and dramatically improve public access to the lake.
The building is in an historic district. This project will revitalize the original 1940s building, take down an awful 1970s addition that nobody likes and provide TIF revenues for other projects to help restore the historic district.
And is the building too big? I don't think so. Nothing convinces me more of that than the model that opponents of the project had built. It's all subjective, but when I look at that scale model I conclude that it fits in very well. And even if I didn't look at it that way, I'd conclude that all the benefits of the project outweigh any concerns about the size of the building.
There remains some confusion about the tax increment support for the project. While the Edgewater would keep the TIF district open for about four or five years longer, it would mean a much higher value coming back on the tax rolls in the end. So, it's worth the wait. And none of this matters much to the school district. As value comes back on the tax rolls, the state school aid formula reduces state aid payments by a like amount. So, no matter what happens, it's pretty much a wash for the district's bottom line.
One last thing. These votes will say something important about where Madison is right now in terms of its posture toward investment. We've made a great deal of progress over the last several years in building confidence that Madison can be both progressive and pro-business. After so much work, so much listening and so many responsive changes by the developer, to turn it down now would undo too much of the progress we've made.
So, for the workers, for our tax base, for the revitalization of a great hotel, for increased public access to our lakes, for our image among those who want to invest in our city, and for the best interests of the historic district, the Edgewater project should be approved.