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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Edgewater mess calls for diplomacy

Can we start over?

OK, I know we already did. But that didn’t work, so let’s try this again.

Not just the Edgewater discussion but the whole Mansion Hill neighborhood.


This debate over the proposed Edgewater Hotel redevelopment could have happened in a civilized and boring bureaucratic manner — developer presents plan, city leaders weigh in, community members give input, developer retools plan, both weigh in again and we keep closing the gaps until we reach a compromise. Sure, not everyone is happy and the neighborhood changes in a definite way, but at least we feel like the neighborhood had its voice heard.

Today, I challenge you to figure out what the neighborhood voice is.

Bob Dunn and Hammes Company certainly didn’t do it any favors. While the construction of a Mansion Hill coalition may have seemed like a good PR blitz, it doesn’t exactly work if your ruse is transparent. I have no doubt Mansion Hill Coalition is made up of stakeholders in the neighborhood. It’s just their stake is more commercial than residential. And if you’re going to create a neighborhood group around those concerns, they better be transparent and they better be long range.

But the response wasn’t about what that group represented; it was about whether they were the community voice. Then you have Capitol Neighborhoods Inc., which presents itself as the real voice of Mansion Hill.

But State-Langdon contests that mantle. They’re important too, they claim! “We represent Langdon,” they say. “Well, except the fraternities — they don’t show up.”

But it’s those fraternities and non-connected parties that have been the most important voice. Sort of like the undecided voters in a presidential election — they’re unfettered in their opinion, free to weigh the evidence on each side and come to a reasoned conclusion. What’s more, they have more legitimacy with the people deciding this on a city level because they don’t have the agenda the others do.

They were the last coordinated line of objective opinion.


Then came a little invitation from Hammes to Lambeau Field to watch the Lions get destroyed. And the frat brothers, who’ve not jumped into the discussion until just recently, were happy to oblige.

Yes, I know Fred Mohs, CNI member, notable landlord and former University of Wisconsin regent, invited them over for drinks and a look at his model of the Edgewater before this. This is a response. That’s courting public opinion. And if Dunn had done the same thing, it would have been fine.

But when you invite the undecided group to a stadium you built, in a box you own, with beer and soda to watch a game that, while one-sided and embarrassing for Detroit, is assured to be a good time, you have a captive audience. They’re along for the game, but they’re there for the presentation, whether they care or not. Even if Mohs was invited, it’s obvious what effect that has on the frat members who weren’t that engaged in the process to begin with. It’s like kids going between divorced parents — Mom’s nice and all but Dad lets us play with his PS3 and drink booze all night. Who do you think is going to be more popular in that contest?

But the problem here isn’t that Hammes did something morally wrong — they destroyed any previous goodwill with CNI, but that’s their decision to make. It’s that the last notable neighborhood group holding back opinion just got co-opted. Whether or not they actually support the project after this or just keep quiet is irrelevant — the perception from the other side will be that the fraternities’ opinion is illegitimate because they were wined and dined. We can blame Hammes for that, but if the frats had actually had tried to feign interest without the enticement of beer and football, we wouldn’t have had this resurgence of intra-community paranoia.

And now no one trusts anyone else. Hammes Company is made into the perfect evil corporation by opponents because Dunn hasn’t tried to counteract that view. CNI is painted as the old guard stubbornly opposing change. State-Langdon are seen as the upstart kids trying to counteract CNI, hence their support for the project. District 2 Ald. Bridget Maniaci tries to maintain neutrality but is quick to provide the counterargument for Hammes. And former Ald. Brenda Konkel launches her volley of accusations against Maniaci and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

And don’t even get me started on City Council.

We haven’t even seen the redesigns and we’ve already delegitimized any voice in the neighborhood with a fresh perspective.

When Hammes returns with more defined plans for the Edgewater, it might be the time to bring everyone back to the table. Everyone. Maniaci, CNI, Hammes, frat members, State-Langdon, Mansion Hill Coalition, Konkel and the few non-connected community members.

Once everyone can see each others’ faces, maybe they’ll understand they, collectively, are the community.

Jason Smathers ([email protected]) is a first-year graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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