I am, and have always been, a fan of The Edgewater Hotel. Never mind that the Faulkners are a good clan, that David Martineau was a beloved host and that I bartended there thirty pounds ago.
Truth is, The Edgewater is a gem, albeit a latent one in need of serious restoration.
Think about it.
Where else in the greater Midwest can you gaze upon a signed autograph of Robert Frost occupying the very same lobby wall as a signed 8 x 10 from Seals and Croft?
Where else can you take the boat downtown for a Mai Tai?
And where else, in the day, could you sing “Danny Boy” at the top of your lubricated lungs accompanied by the legendary Eleanor Pearson in the Rigadoon Room with Elton John at your elbow?
Most importantly, where else, other than the oft-crowded Memorial Union Terrace, can you enjoy such a glorious public view of the single geographic element that sets Madison apart from all other dowdy flyover burgs: our hallowed Lake Mendota?
I’ll tell you where. Nowhere.
And now there is a play afoot, spearheaded by homegrown developer and mediocre Edgewood High School quarterback Bob Dunn, to provide the Faulkner family and the Edgewater a much-needed cash and concept infusion. If done right, this could be big. As big as Overture or better, for the simple “Duh!” that the Edgewater is on the very Edge of the Water. It occupies an unmatched spot; grandfathered smack dab on the shore of a beautiful lake. When the wind is from the west, and the waves are up, the lake mist paints your window. That’s how close.
In case you haven’t noticed, they don’t let hotels do that anymore. It’s bad for the bluegills. But in predictable Madison fashion there is opposition to this Big Idea. It comes from respected downtown leader, natty dresser and developer himself, Fred Mohs.
In the early stages at least, there are signs of a Dunn-Mohs Cage Match. Bill it as “The Old Bull versus The Young Bull.”
Before things get too nutty, lets examine the benefits of Dunn’s Big Idea.
• Greater, upscale recreational access to the lake for all, without the personal cost of a $2 million Shorewood or Maple Bluff home.
• Reborn destination property bringing outside revenues to city coffers, especially from irritating Illinois people who have been taking our toll money for far too long.
• A much-needed, high-end business hotel.
• A welcome architectural lift to the Mendota, Langdon and downtown communities offering a balance to the Lake Monona activity triggered in the past decade by Frank Wright’s new convention center.
• A center city entertainment alternative to State Street for the American Express card set no longer interested in a Ragstock wardrobe.
• A perfect complement to the projected Mendota boardwalk extending from the Memorial Union to James Madison Park.
• And most importantly, the potential for a greater public appreciation of our lakes.
Aside from the aforementioned Union, public access and enjoyment of our lakes has slowly decreased as poorer water quality has doomed our city beaches. No longer do the sands of Willows Beach, BB Clarke or Tenney teem with families in the summer.
A new Edgewater could provide a greater Madison lake experience for more people to the point where we might actually come together to protect this critical community asset.
And the reasons for opposing a New Edgewater? Mr. Mohs has concerns about the neighborhood (which happens to be his neighborhood); specifically protecting a view of the lake and parking.
Mohs’ points may be legit. Dunn has to make sure the neighborhood is heard. No one should be big-footed.
But this critique seems as much about territorial imperative than neighborhood quality. Two developers, two egos, and one drama for all of us to bear.
Hopefully this will be avoided and the project can proceed apace. Perhaps for all our sakes, both Mohs and Dunn will heed the words of famed musical legend Quincy Jones, who has handled more than his fair share of folks with healthy self-image, cash and talent. His mantra? “Leave your ego at the door.”
Or in this case, check it with the bellman.
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write firstname.lastname@example.org.