Edgewater Renovation — Yes!

Here’s an e-mail I sent to undecided members of the Madison Common council over the weekend.

To the Madison Common Council:

As you are reflecting on the fate of the Edgewater Hotel I’d ask you to note that the opinions you are hearing fall from people in these general categories:

A. Those who favor the project as being in the best long-term interest of Madison
B. Those who oppose the project as not being in the best long-term interest of Madison
C. Those who favor the project because they have direct financial interest at stake.
D. Those who oppose the project because they have direct financial interest at stake.

I urge you to listen to all, but I would contend the As and Bs should be given the greatest weight by you, as elected officials of the city. You’ll probably find very few Bs and I suspect constituents would feel similarly.

I happen to be an “A.” I have no direct interest in this project, financial or otherwise. But I do think the Edgewater plan is one of the most important long-range opportunities our city has seen in many years.

The Edgewater has long been in need of updating. But even massive sums spent on a cosmetic makeover wouldn’t do justice to this jewel downtown, at campus, and on the lake. With the renovation, a visionary plan by a Madison resident with world-class architectural credentials, the Edgewater will once again become a unique destination for visitors and area residents alike.

There’s no question our lakes are our defining natural asset, but access to the lakes has always been limited when compared to other waterfront cities. The new Edgewater will bring a new option for enjoying Lake Mendota to visitors and residents.

As an economic generator, it will bring jobs, both now and in the future. It will generate property and room-tax revenue for the city. Increased visitor spending will bring sales-tax revenue to the county. And it will help further dispel a long-held perception the city is unfriendly to business investment.

I was born in Madison and have lived here off and on ever since. I don’t vote in the City of Madison because I live in Maple Bluff. But I do own a business with an office building in the city, pay Madison property taxes, and employ several dozen people who depend on the economic viability of Madison to support families. I belong to a number of organizations, including the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, but I am speaking here strictly for myself.

I love the Madison I remember growing up in the 50s and 60s. I also love the vibrant Madison of today. The Edgewater renovation is a wonderful link between those eras.


Bill Haight
In Business Magazine

As I was preparing to send my message, my friend Nick Topitzes shared with me a similar letter he was sending. As a supplier of products to the meetings industry, Nick has an extensive background in hotels and conventions. His letter brings out some excellent insight and Nick gave me permission to share it here:

I hope my background in the meetings and convention business can be helpful in your decision making on the Edgewater. While my business is in Verona, I am a long time Madison resident (1961). I have spent decades in the convention business. At a very young age, I was the assistant director of World Dairy Expo. I ran another event in Minnesota and returned to Madison to work for Stephan and Brady Advertising where I was involved in the initial marketing of the convention bureau. In the late 70s, I was a founder of a conference business for the academic market and, in the 80s I started a series of small trade shows for the advertising market. I have produced over 100 events. In the mid 80s, I developed software for the meetings market and the company grew into a company that is the leading provider of meeting supplies to over 25,000 meeting planners a year. I no longer produce or manage meetings (the last one was of 1,000 academicians in New Orleans four years ago) — I sold that business due to the growth of our meeting supply business. I still am a Certified Meeting Professional, serve on national committees, attend 20 national trade shows and conventions per year that are geared to the meetings industry. My company advertises in all the major meeting publications and I have been quoted or published in several of them. I have spoken at Meeting Professionals International, Professional Conference Managers Association, Religious Conference Managers Association, Society of Government Meeting Planners, National Coalition Of Black Meeting Planners, HSMAI Affordable Meetings, American Society of Association Executives, etc. I also served on the advisory committee during the building of Monona Terrace.

Unfortunately, I will be at the International Association of Exposition and Events on Tuesday and cannot attend the City Council meeting.

The city needs the Edgewater Hotel project.

The existing hotels are all struggling and one would think that another hotel would not be helpful. Some of this is due to the economy. But some of it is that the city lacks quality hotel room stock. The Hilton is very nice but has limited rooms and is content to rent many of its rooms to transient corporate guests where they can achieve a higher rate. The other properties — are for the most part quite old and lack strong national identities. The Concourse is 35 years old, the Inn on the Park dates back to the 60s, and the Doubletree goes back to the 70s as well. Please understand, that old hotels are not bad, but you do need a mix of upscale and modern properties as well to attract meetings. This lack of good stock is partly responsible for our not being able to attract more and better meetings to Monona Terrace. Until it is remedied, it will continue to be a place for weddings and class reunions, local events, civic events, etc. These meetings do not bring in room tax. They do not bring in the kinds of revenue that can make Monona Terrace more profitable (audio-visual, staging, expensive dinners, receptions, transportation, etc.) Until that happens, Monona Terrace will continue to require subsidies and be a drain on city coffers.

Upper Langdon also needs a boost. There are significant new buildings on the other end of Langdon. But the Wisconsin Avenue end has suffered with too many buildings that, while intriguing, are unsafe, chopped up, inefficient. The truth is, sadly, that renovating a building is far more costly that tearing it down and putting up a new one. As more and more high quality, modern buildings are put up, the older buildings will suffer from vacancies, and will most likely deteriorate. The city is doing a better job in enforcing the cleaning up of properties on Langdon, but they still need work and the fraternities and sororities are struggling with their high property taxes and the fact that their members are moving into the new high rises.

The view will not be intrusive. Only one property will be significantly affected — the Kennedy Manor. The Kennedy Manor is a beautiful building but will still have great views over the center part of the project as well as directly across the street.

The Edgewater needs improvement. If not improved, it will only be a drag on the area. The numbers don’t work for smaller hotel properties. They currently only have 100 rooms. They need more rooms to cover the cost of overhead for staffing a front desk, a concierge, a doorman, a shuttle service. Also, you need more rooms if you are going to attract the sub-Monona Terrace meetings. Many of these meetings can go to the Concourse, but again, the Concourse already has some limits and is an older property. The Inn on the Park has limited meeting space as does the Doubletree. You need to have room for a general session, breakouts and meal functions. You cannot use the same space for all those functions unless you are prepared to tell people to wait an hour while you reset the room.

The use of TIF is appropriate because in this case the city gains room tax while the TIF is in play. Unlike many other TIFs, Madison gains room tax from the room tax.

The other hotel properties will gain. The Edgewater being closed or limited while the construction is going on is going to help the other properties. If the Edgewater runs a 50-60 percent occupancy, that means that the other hotels are going to gain a total of 50-60 rooms each night. The result will be higher occupancy and that will drive higher rates. This can help their profitability and most likely enable them to be in a better position to upgrade their properties while construction is going on. It is probably true that competition makes us all better. That applies to hotels as well as cities.

The GMCVB will have a great and exciting story to spread to meeting planners. “Hey — we have a great new property coming with spectacular views for your attendees who want upscale properties. It will be perfect for your boards, execs, and VIPs.” Additionally, it will attract high end tourists instead of our losing them to Wisconsin Dells. Madison needs meetings and tourism to be viable.

Jobs. Especially now when so many jobs are needed. Construction will be a great source for our highly skilled construction and lowly skilled people. And once the hotel is built, there will be jobs within the hotel. While some look down at hotel jobs as menial and low paying, they are wonderful entry jobs for many people. Eventually they can lead to high paying jobs and professional jobs. I would be happy to tell you of many national hotel execs — vice presidents and presidents — who started out as airport van drivers, front desk clerks, servers, bus staff, etc. who started with low paying jobs with no intention of staying in the business but they found it a place where they could develop a career.

Your vote is critical. Business needs your support to know that Madison is friendly towards businesses. I often tell my friends that Madison often says that it is progressive but if they tried to build the Union Terrace today, they would never be able to do it. It takes courage to do the right thing as all of you know every time you meet to decide the many issues you face daily. The right decision here is to support the Edgewater. (By the way, I was a history major so I am not opposed to historic preservation but I also believe the tail should not wag the dog.)

Thank you for your service.

Nick Topitzes, President
PC Nametag
Verona, WI

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