Should the Edgewater project get tax aid?

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Pretty soon Madison is going to have to change it’s nickname to “The Terrace City.” It seems like the only way this city can think to make money is to give people more and more opportunities to drink beer on a lake.

The Cap Times had an interesting editorial today about the Hammes Company’s bid for Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) for their proposed renovation of the Edgewater Hotel.

TIF, in case you’re not familiar, is what cities often use to finance development projects that will increase the property value in the surrounding area. The idea was originally conceived for developing poor or underdeveloped neighborhoods or areas, however, in recent history it has become a standard request from any developer. Hammes is asking for $16.8 million of TIF funding.

The Cap Times argues that TIF funding should only be granted for the Edgewood project if the developers can guarantee that the terrace will be open to the public at all times, and not merely another venue for high-roller cocktail parties. The Edgewater, which has been an institution among the Madison bourgeoisie for decades, will become even more prone to exclusive gatherings of the elite after a $100 million renovation. Resentment, resentment, resentment.

The Cap Times makes a fair point that will undoubtedly appeal to its readership. The logic also coincides with the original intent of TIF. But the hotel should probably not be completely restricted from holding private events – weddings, charity events, Philip Morris benefits – the kind of things that can also be reserved at Memorial Union. Believe me, when I stopped by the Union the other day to check out an art exhibit there was a very inviting table of imported beer at a 40th anniversary in the room next door. It hurts, but it brings in crucial revenue – at least I hope it does. Ideally, the Edgewater will provide a Union-like terrace, which will become a cherished summer beer garden.

In a couple hours I will be interviewing several (I think several) members of the Hammes development team. I hope to gain some insight on the project itself, as well as some of the political and public relations controversies that have surfaced in recent days. Stay posted.

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