The Faulkner Legacy: Edgewater Hotel owner reflects on past, future.

photo courtesy of Scott Faulkner

After months of debate and emotions running the gamut, plans for Madison's Edgewater Hotel redevelopment are moving forward, thanks to the final vote last month from the city's Common Council. Though the voices we became accustomed to — those of developer Robert Dunn of the Hammes Co., Fred Mohs and others representing neighborhood groups, and Council members on both sides of the issue — will always remain, they might assume a much lower decibel.

One voice that remained surprisingly silent through the debate was that of Edgewater owner Scott Faulkner. The results of all the political and social wrangling would have the most affect on Faulkner, whose father, Augie, opened the iconic hotel in 1948. Yet for the most part, he remained mum. Until now.

Chasing Celebs

First, some Madison hotel history: Augie Faulkner was attending Michigan State's Hotel School when he was hired as general manager of the Edgewater Hotel in Madison. The owners at the time, the Quislings, were another prominent Madison family, and allowed Faulkner the freedom to develop the hotel as he saw fit. "The angle my Dad took was to go for the celebrities," the younger Faulkner said. For several years, the hotel would hold rooftop dances featuring Big Bands of the era, such as Woody Herman, and from 1949 to 1951, CBS Radio would broadcast the popular events live to listeners around the globe.

The Quislings sold the hotel in the 1950s to a Chicago group, but Augie repurchased it about a decade later. "I still have the very first dollar we took in," his son Scott shared. The hotel proved an interesting place to grow up, he recalled. "I actually lived there. I remember coming down for Christmas … shaking hands with celebrities like Bart Starr and Don Ameche. My favorite was the Cisco Kid. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he laughed. But it wasn't always positive, he admitted. "When we were kids, if the phone rang at 2 a.m., it usually wasn't someone saying things were running great."

Those were simpler days. Faulkner said the only other hotels on the isthmus were the Inn on the Park and the Lorraine. Then, in 1974, in the shadow of construction for a new Madison Concourse Hotel, the elder Faulkner began the Edgewater's first expansion — adding parking, the restaurant and 40 more rooms — and became embroiled in city's process politics for the first time.

The younger Faulkner joined his father in 1978 as a management trainee, and went through what he calls "Augie's school of hard knocks." When the patriarch passed away in 1996, Scott took the reins. Faulkner said he started getting calls from developers almost immediately— usually 10 or so a year. "This was a hot spot, but none of those offers felt right."

Then he received a call one day from Robert Dunn of the Hammes Co.

"There was something different about him," Faulkner said, and he and his wife, Lynn, vice president, decided Dunn could be the best choice to continue his parent's legacy. "We turned a lot of people down along the way," Faulkner said. "But Bob had worked on some very complicated projects, and this was one. We just thought he had the expertise, tenacity and vision to put this up."

Future Plans

When he first saw the Hammes Co. plans, Faulkner said he could hardly contain his excitement, and shared them with his mother, Audrey, who remains secretary of the corporation. "It was just great," he said. "She loved it. But then, my dad had once had plans to build a hotel that stretched all the way to Pinckney Street!" So the family, it seemed, was all about bigger and better.

It was no secret the entire Edgewater facility needed work, despite renovations the hotel made every year to spruce up the rooms. Faulkner admitted that the hotel's current size was somewhat limiting. "We needed more hotel rooms to carry it on," Faulkner explained. "In Madison, the hotel inventory is very aged. The city needs first class hotel rooms just to handle those [people] the University brings in. Madison has been lacking in first-class rooms."

Faulkner knew the project would get resistance from the neighborhood associations, and began meeting with the neighborhoods nearly two years ago. But he admits he never anticipated the amount of debate the project endured, over such a long stretch of time. Then, things started getting personal. "People started saying nasty things about my father. That was the hardest part," he said.

There were many times Faulkner feared the project wouldn't go through, particularly when the Landmarks Commission ruled against the design. "The peaks and valleys … this was probably one of the most difficult years I've had. I tried to stay behind the scenes because I had a hotel to run, seven days a week. But I went to all the meetings."

A few challenges still lie ahead. Some city agreements still need to be approved, and Faulkner said he doesn't know yet if the hotel will need to close during any portion of the construction, which could begin in late 2010. But overall, the future looks bright. "This will let me run a brand new hotel, which I've never been able to do," he said. "And, it will continue the tradition of the Edgewater, and my family's life. This will be one of the finest hotels in the country. To be a part of it will be great. The Faulkner name means 'hotel.'"

Top Notch, Top Price

Renovating the Edgewater certainly doesn't come cheap. "We're going for top-end," Faulkner said, "the finest and most expensive in town. Over the years, that's been a good market for us. People who can afford to stay in nice places can usually always afford to stay there, regardless of the economy. We have an enormous repeat customer base here, and I've been getting calls from all around the country, from people wondering how the council voted. It's very exciting!"

The Faulkner name may be around a long time as well. Lynn and Scott's 23-year-old son Ross now runs the pier operations. "He's a natural in the hotel business," said his father, "and he's getting excellent training." But as part of the redevelopment, the Faulkner family will soon sell the hotel to the Hammes Co. "Bob will be purchasing the hotel, and I will manage it. I'm 53. It doesn't bother me. Now, I'll see how my son will do.

"We're just really happy that we're moving forward. This will revitalize the Langdon Street neighborhood, and do what Monona Terrace did to that side of the isthmus," Faulkner continued. "Ten years from now, I'd like to see a very busy hotel with excellent management, and Madisonians enjoying the facility.

"I'm also hoping we can sneak something in, in tribute to my mother and father."

And what would father, Augie, say?

"He'd love it! He'd love the debates, the wins, the losses. He'd just love it!"

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