John Roach: New Edgewater a strong civic statement for Madison

John Roach: New Edgewater a strong civic statement for Madison

By John Roach

There are few things better than summer in Madison, especially after this past winter. But this summer promises to be sweeter than most.

For this year’s season of sun will be historic, as we are on the eve of a Madison Renaissance.

Why? Because we are about to witness the introduction of Edgewater 2.0.

Now all of Madison will have a front porch on Lake Mendota. And the rest of the world will have a destination hotel that lives up to Madison’s own opinion of itself, with a view and experience rivaled by few in the Midwest.

Combine Edgewater 2.0 with a glorious state Capitol building, an improved State Street, an Overture Center in full bloom, a new downtown library and a Monona Terrace convention center that can only be helped by this cascade of positive events, and you have a city that has finally managed to recreate itself for a new century.

We are starting to look like a city that had a vision and realized it.

Of course there are the other items on the Madison Feel Good List, like our plethora of bike paths, the Dane County Farmers’ Market and Concerts on the Square. But these are pleasant adjuncts to a big idea. No matter how good your intentions might be, a city’s vision eventually has to manifest itself in brick and mortar.

And that’s what the Edgewater does.

The Memorial Union is also undergoing a remodel, but in this instance, we should separate the city of Madison from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, which is admittedly near impossible.

But the fact of the matter is that UW is not the city of Madison.

It’s hardly big news when UW throws up another grand building. In the last two decades we’ve seen the construction of the American Family Children’s Hospital, the Kohl Center, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the Chazen Museum of Art addition and the renovation of Camp Randall, to name just a few of the changes to the dynamic campus skyline.

The constituency of UW is the world, with alums in every corner of the globe. And that is the statement UW makes with its campus.

But the Edgewater makes a different statement. A civic statement.

It is a building that was created by the will of the community of Madison, not UW.

From a historic standpoint, it was long past time for the city to assert its own identity so that we didn’t become perceived as a scruffy roadie merely serving the needs of a rockstar campus; witness South Bend, Indiana, Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, and New Haven, Connecticut.

And there is another specific aspect of the Edgewater that makes it important: You cannot be a great city without a great hotel.

The Edgewater provides a big piece that was missing in our municipal puzzle: a first-class destination hotel that is uniquely Madison. A place for visitors to stay that is indelibly authentic.

It is not a Hyatt. Or a Marriott. Or a Hilton.

As someone who has traveled extensively both domestically and abroad, I can tell you that hotels that feel indigenous to their locale are the most memorable of places.

I vividly recall the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, the Hotel Einstein in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and the Dromoland Castle in County Clare, Ireland. Why? Because their walls contain the very culture and history of their place. Try as it might, this is something a Hyatt can never do.

And there is one more thing that makes the Edgewater the perfect hotel to stand for our city. It is on our one great lake.

Hell, it’s almost in Lake Mendota.

Like another famous hotel, the Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, the Edgewater has a grandfathered shoreline location that is utterly unique. Like the Breakers, when the wind is right and your window is open, the waters on which the hotel resides will mist into your room. You actually inhale your location.

Madison has its problems. Surely the process that created the Edge 2.0 could have been smoother. But that acrimony will fall away soon enough, leaving for decades the view of Lake Mendota from the new perches of the Edgewater.

And Madison will have taken a huge step at being a great city, rather than just saying it is one.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at

Find more of his columns here.