Doubts About The Edgewater Subsidy

I don’t cover City Hall much anymore, so most of what I knew about the proposed Edgewater Hotel expansion I read either online or in what remains of Madison’s newspapers. Frankly, I was puzzled why the mayor was prepared to offer a $16 million subsidy in the form of tax-increment financing.

Madison’s TIF policy is notoriously tough…as in a Dick Cheney kind of way. First, city staff waterboards the developer-applicants until they confess all their financial details and then the Common Council and city committees subject them to months of hostile interrogations. Often blood is spilled, and projects die.

A classic example involved Gary Gorman, one of the state’s premier builders of affordable housing, killing his $84 million mixed-used project on East Washington Avenue in 2006 when the penny-tight, pound-foolish city offered him $2.2 million in TIF for first-phase construction when he asked for $4.2 million.

So I was puzzled why the Edgewater developer would seemingly be showered in subsidy. To learn more, I attended one of the project’s public presentations and talked to ten or so City Hall insiders and business leaders. I basically ran down my concerns and asked them to agree or disagree.

No one gave me what I consider a convincing case for such a deep-pocketed public investment in the Edgewater expansion. This is what I wrote for a guest opinion column in Isthmus.

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