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Hammes Co.'s Proposed $93 million Re-development of the Historic
Edgewater Hotel Still Breathes Life: Madison City Council to
Reconsider Overturning Landmarks Commission Ruling

By Dean Mosiman, The Wisconsin State JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 29, 2009--The Hammes Co.'s proposed $93 million redevelopment of the historic Edgewater hotel -- one of the most controversial projects put before the city this decade -- still has life.

Ald. Michael Schumacher, 18th District, is asking the City Council to reconsider a Dec. 16 decision that's blocked the project. It's unclear if 14 of 20 needed council votes are there to let the project continue through the city review process.

Hammes President Robert Dunn said he'll proceed if the city deems the project a priority, but that the review process has undermined financing. He said he must now get all city approvals before tackling financing, final design and construction.

"I am willing to continue working on this," he said. "But we've added a significant degree of time and uncertainty. The process has made the viability of the project much more difficult."

On Dec. 16, at 5:15 a.m., after nine hours of testimony and debate, the council voted 12-5 to overturn a Landmarks Commission that effectively blocked the project. But 14 of 20 council votes were needed.

Three council members -- Schumacher, Judy Compton and Thuy Pham-Remmele -- had excused absences, meaning they could seek a reconsideration at the next meeting.

Schumacher said he's doing so because Dunn says the project is still possible and the votes to overturn the Landmarks Commission seem to be there.

"I feel confident the council will take the reconsideration seriously given the merits of the project and its importance to the city," Schumacher said.

The council will reconsider its vote Jan. 5.

The project has a chance if the council overturns the commission and the city then offers an efficient approval process, council President Tim Bruer said.

Failure to embrace the project will have a negative impact on investment in the city, Bruer said.

Mario Mendoza, aide to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who strongly backs the project, said, "We're optimistic that with a full council we'll get 14 votes."

Compton and Pham-Remmele are undecided.

Compton prefers that the council defer reconsideration until after the Plan and Urban Design commissions get a chance to shape the project and perhaps make it more acceptable to critics.

Pham-Remmele likes the project but is frustrated by a politicized process. "I haven't made up my mind," she said.

Dunn wants to renovate the original hotel, cut the height and create a public plaza atop a 1970s addition that would overlook Lake Mendota and erect an eight-story hotel tower.

The Landmarks Commission, which considered the project because it's in the Mansion Hill Historic District, on Nov. 30 voted 5-2 that the tower isn't compatible with buildings within 200-feet, and 5-2 against a variance. Hammes appealed the decision to the council.


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