Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Hotel Projects, on the map

The WSJ did a story on all of the hotels under construction a few weeks back, I thought it would be helpful to stick those projects, as well as one more I’ve heard rumors about, on a map. Yeah, maybe this post is a few weeks too late, but whatever.

The Sconz (back a few weeks ago) wondered “where is the dialogue” on the other hotels, beyond the Edgewater. As a city, we haven’t yet really had the discussion about “how much hotel is too much”. I think I’m ready to give Mayor Dave some credit here, as he quickly recognized that we need to have this discussion and commissioned a new study to try and give us some numbers to inform the discussion. His capital budget should be forthcoming, and that will give us a better idea of what he’s thinking.

The Edgewater

I don’t want to write much about the Edgewater yet, because I’m going to go to the neighborhood meeting tomorrow and I’m trying to keep an open mind. The one thing I will say right now is this shouldn’t have gone this way. Everyone knows the Edgewater is a dump. When we brought Biddy and the other candidates to campus, we put them up at the Edgewater, and I thought for sure the Chancellor search would fail right then and there. Absolutely everyone in Madison recognizes that the Edgewater needs to do something to update itself, and everyone wants the Edgewater to be updated. We should have been tripping over ourselves to get this project approved and underway, and we need to have a long discussion when this is over as to why it didn’t work out that way. Is it the neighborhood, is it the city planning and development staff, did the developers get bad advice about how to approach the stakeholders? (It could be some or all of those things)

I did try and go to the Landmarks Commission on Monday night, but the room was packed and very hot, and I was going to see it all the next day, so I gave up after about 20 minutes. I expected it to be a short night for me, I knew I couldn’t get there right on time, and LL-110 was a ridiculously  undersized room for the crowd I knew was going to be there. The WSJ gave us the highlights, and Brenda was there with her laptop, so I can read the complete details tomorrow. It’s too bad it wasn’t on the City Channel, or held in a bigger room.

The Fiore Project

The hotel hasn’t been covered as well as the rest of the library saga, in part because Fiore doesn’t really know what they want to do with it. They’re sure that they need a hotel to make the project work, or at least don’t want to try and only get into office space or residential on the site of the old library. What they pitched in July was retail on the ground floor, and a hotel above that. The big reason Fiore wants to include a hotel is because they can use the hotel room taxes as part of their financial figurin’, and with some (actually not-so-fancy) accounting be able to claim with a semi-straight face that library project basically pays for itself.

What they don’t mention  in the powerpoint for the July 2009 Council Presentation on Central Library, and only quietly mentioned in their discussion, was that they’re going to ask for TIF money to build public parking underneath the hotel. I don’t think, or at least don’t remember, if they gave a figure for how much TIF they’re going to ask for.

The Hyatt Place Project

Not much to say about this one, it’s under construction. If we didn’t want it, it’s too late now.

The Apex Project

I want to know more about this project, I was out of town for their neighborhood meeting and so I don’t know much about it beyond what I’ve read in the paper. My understanding is that the final form of the project is still very much up in the air, except that it will certainly contain a hotel. After that, anything seems to go, from grocery store to movie theater. Part of me hopes that this project never happens, because I hope that someday we tear down the Dane County Courthouse and restore the Capitol view from John Nolen. But, if the view is already gone, we may as well hide the courthouse with something a bit more interesting.

They want TIF or other public money to connect the hotel to the Monona Terrace. The interesting question will be if they’ll build the hotel without the connection to the Monona Terrace.

The Kenton Peters Project

I know virtually nothing about this project, only the general area. Kenton Peters is a well-known Madison architect, who designed the blue cube of a Federal Courthouse, and the UW Foundation building out on Old University Avenue. Peters has also built extensively on the shores of Lake Monona already, famously adding on an extra story to one of his condo buildings, paying a $25,000 penalty for considerably more profit. He’s also had some bold plans (see State St, and Doty St, and finally the Monona Shoreline). Kenton seems to propose far more than he actually builds, but he obviously connects with the ball some of the time, so I wouldn’t totally discount him. I’ve heard that it’s supposed to be a hotel project, and in the 400-rooms size (which is a damn big hotel for Madison). I don’t know if it is at all connected to his earlier visions for the Monona shoreline.

The Marcus Hotel

The original hotel proposal, and perhaps the best understood, this would transform the Madison Municipal Building and associated parking lot into a new hotel to serve the Monona Terrace. The Monona Terrace doesn’t have enough hotel rooms. That has been obvious since before the Hilton opened, but it was a nod to the Inn on the Park, the Concourse, and the Edgewater so they would feel like they could also serve the Monona Terrace. In reality, none of them can. Conference organizers want conference centers with lots of hotel rooms attached to the convention center (I can tell you as a conference goer, I actually won’t go to conferences if my room is not attached to the convention center, or it has to be a damn good conference to persuade me otherwise). I think the Marcus is the only hotel that realistically meets this need, though I have another idea that will be a future blog post. I should wait to see more detailed plans, but the Apex hotel seems too far away.

The current Hilton, given its druthers, would just as soon ignore the fact that it’s attached to the convention center, and focus only on business travelers. Enough companies have exclusive or special deals with the Hilton chain that the Hilton could be booked solid if it didn’t have to leave rooms for the Monona Terrace.

There’s also the question of do we really want more convention business at the Monona Terrace? Conventions prefer to have the run of the building while they’re there, excluding the rest of us. A year or two ago, I was taking some visiting grad students on a walking tour of Madison in March, and I had to sweet-talk the Terrace s staff to let us go look out the windows over Lake Monona because of an Amway or Mary Kay convention or some such. There wasn’t actually anyone using the hall at that very moment, but the staff was afraid one of the convention goers would see us and complain. So much for the Community Center it was pitched as.

The story is the Marcus deal is sort of dead. We certainly haven’t heard much from them lately.

So, what do we know about all of the projects? They’re certainly complicated – just look at all of the steps the Edgewater will need to take to be approved. The Fiore and the Marcus projects involve property swaps with the city, which can’t possibly be easy. We still haven’t touched the question of how many rooms does the city need downtown? What are  all of these people coming here to do? The state is the major employer downtown, and its trying to downsize its workforce. Will this mean more people from the rest of the state will need to come to Madison to more often, or does it mean there’s less of a reason to come to Madison? Is there enough diversity in the rest of the downtown employer base to justify all of these hotel rooms? Are there enough downtown condo residents that can keep up a social life of out-of-town visitors that need a place to stay? Can we build Downtown Madison as a tourist destination, or make Downtown Madison the hub for regional tourism?

Finally, what about the existing hotels? The Concourse just had a remodel, and is probably fine. By all accounts, it’s time for Inn on the Park to consider one too.

Fast but ugly

They’ve been working on Chadbourne all summer, adding a new tower onto the building. They seem to have pretty much finished up, and it was an amazingly fast project. The main purpose of the tower is to hold a new elevator shaft.

First, here’s what the building looked like earlier, viewed from the south (sorry, can’t find a CC-licensed image, so just linking to a flickr page)

Now, here’s the new elevator addition.

Chadbourne has never looked nice, and it doesn’t seem likely that as the building ages we’ll appreciate it like we do the Lakeshore dorms. It is also just an elevator shaft, but I’m amazed at how ugly it is. I know there’s not really anything that could use windows, but a 13 story blank brick wall is pretty cold and brutal, especially when it faces southwest and right onto University Ave. Would it have killed them to mix up the brick color a bit?

That said, when the UW has tried to texture building exteriors, it’s come up with such winners as the Mcardle Cancer Center.

Maybe it’s better that we kept it simple.

ps for fun reading, check out UW Housing’s Master plan of projects til 2020. The new Lakeshore dorm looks pretty cool

New student representatives: an update

This is just as a quick update to the two earlier posts. At today’s council meeting, the ASM Student Council adopted a change that will require referenda to ask separate questions and a new definition of freshmen for fall elections. Neither change is official, bylaw changes require votes at two meetings before they take effect.

The separate questions change passed easily, with little discussion. I didn’t expect that it would be terribly controversial.

The new student voting question was a long and good discussion. In the end, we settled on “option one”, which would define freshman to be a ‘First Year Student’. If it had been in place in 2008, 694 students would have been included in the fall 2008 election. We expect the number to be similar for 2009.

It’s important to note that while change we set out to make today only effects first year students, we spent a long time exploring options to help transfer students and new graduate/professional students. However, the consensus in the room was that there were simply too many obstacles to attempt a change in the bylaws without also making a constitutional change, and that an on-the-fly constitutional change was ill-advised. It took a lot of persuading (or, just doggedly wearing down) many council members to even start on a bylaw change without more time to consider the ramifications.

The next step is to confirm option one at the September 2nd council meeting. If we are still comfortable with the change, it can become official at that meeting. If there are still concerns, the council may delay, with final adoption on September 16th, or else push the change out and fix it in time for the 2010 fall election.

The council did seem committed to trying to do something for transfer students and new grad students, potentially in time for the fall of 2009, but I suspect it won’t happen until 2010. As we get into proposed fixes, any thread we pull on will quickly unravel the whole thing into a big pile of problems.

One of the ideas that was discussed was moving some of the elections to the fall. There are two fundamental problems with moving away from a spring election. The first is the easier of the two: many of the ASM efforts for an upcoming year benefit from having a summer to prepare for it. It is better to have a new council start in the spring, and be energized for an upcoming fall than to give the summer over to an outgoing council that has no stake in the upcoming year. The real killer is the logistics of the SSFC process: the SSFC needs to be set, as much as possible, during the summer so they can train and organize for the fall. September and October are the middle of the eligibility hearings for student groups. It simply could not work to have major turnover and many new members in the fall.

I think the whole ASM council seat allocation process is flawed. Beyond the problem of thousands of students having no vote in the fall, the whole idea of districts based on college just doesn’t seem right. Who really says “I’m an L&S student?” There is no real connection between most council members and their ‘constituents’. (If you’re an L&S student, which one of the 12 is ‘your’ representative?) In the spring of 2008, the person I most wanted to vote onto the council was Adam Porton, but he wasn’t on my ballot. (In fact, there was only one person on my ballot, the other 4 grad seats had no one running for them).

Seat allocation and election timing is a complicated problem. On the constitution committee last year, we spent many hours trying different ideas, and ultimately we just left the system as-is. Maybe this year we can do better.

(The rest of the meeting was fast and smooth, except for starting 40 minutes late because we were one short for quorum. We appointed Tom Templeton to the Madison Inititiave Oversight Shared Gov committee, Katy Ziebell to SSFC, fine-tuned the press office job descriptions, endorsed a United Council event that will happen in Madison, and OK’ed a large-but-routine event grant for a World Music Festival the Union is sponsoring.)

A matter of fairness – why does ASM exclude some students?

[Note: This is very long, I know. It’s meant for ASM Council members, to help speed debate on Saturday. I’m sure it hurts as a blog post]

Over the next few days, thousands of students, most fresh out of high school, will start to arrive on campus. However, many of these students won’t actually be Freshmen, at least according to the UW’s classification.

Colloquially, freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior match up with the four years of an undergraduate degree. The UW’s precise definition is based on the number of credits a student has, with a freshman being any student with fewer than 24 credits.  This classification is useful for academics. For example, it can say that a certain class requires that a student have some experience with college-level work before attempting it, or that a class is designed for new college students and upperclassmen should not take it.

With the proliferation of AP courses and other opportunities to earn college credit before arriving at UW-Madison, starting college as a sophomore (or higher) is not at all uncommon. 15 years ago, when ASM was founded, it was likely that only a handful of students fell into this category. In the fall of 2008, about 500 694 students did.

In 2001, future ASM Chair Austin Evans tried to run in the ASM Fall election for a “Freshman” seat. The Student Election Commission denied him eligibility, because he had more than 24 credits of AP work. The Student Judiciary ultimately confirmed that he was not eligible to run, unwilling to accept Austin’s argument that common sense should prevail, and that he obviously was a freshman by society’s definition.  In 2008, current SSFC Chair Brandon Williams was also unable to run as a freshman.

In 2001, the SJ ordered itself to evaluate the election process and issue rules to define who is eligible to run as a freshman. It does not appear that it ever did so. The SJ also left open the possibility of  “an alternative conception of the freshmen district beside the one used now.” As a matter of common-sense fairness, ASM should more carefully define the term “freshman” in the ASM bylaws and fully engage all of the newest students.

The ASM Constitution allows for the bylaws to create districts based on “reasonable academic units.” The SJ has interpreted this to mean some characteristic that the University tracks that can be used to tranche students, school or college being the most obvious way. Academic standing is another.

The Registrar already tracks students in a variety of ways, and can give us ready access to a list of students meeting any of these classifications:

First Year Students: an undergraduate student that has never previously attended a post-secondary institution (regardless of academic level i.e. freshman, sophomore, etc.)

Transfer students: an undergraduate student that is transferring from another post-secondary institution, but has never previously attended UW Madison.

Re-Entry student: a student that has previously attended UW Madison, but has been inactive for at least two consecutive semesters.

Re-entry/Transfer: a student that has previously attended UW Madison, but has been inactive for at least two consecutive semesters and also attended another institution and is now transferring that work back to UW Madison.

New Student: applies only to graduate students and professional students.

The UW is getting good at using ‘First Year Student’ for many of its programs, but there are places where it gets a bit sloppy and identifies a group of students as “Freshmen”. The Data Digest, UW’s official publication that has just about every fact and figure you could want to know about the UW, uses “Freshmen” in many places where it really means ‘First Year Student’. (In other places, it uses “Freshmen” and really means students with under 24 credits.)

It is my contention that at a minimum, the ASM bylaws should define a freshman as a “First Year Student”. That will restore voting rights, and the right to be a candidate, to 500 694 students. It is hard to imagine disenfranchising these students was anything but an oversight 15 years ago, and regardless of original motivation, restoring it now is the right thing to do. This is what I call ‘Option One’. Here’s the language:

Renumber section 6.02(1) to section 6.02(1)(a). Create section 6.02(1)(b) to read:

For the purposes of participating in the fall election, ‘Freshman’ shall mean any undergraduate ASM member classified as a ‘First Year Student’ by the Registrar.

Now, let’s consider a bigger picture. ASM seats are divided up into districts – Letters and Science Undergrads, the Law School, CALS, etc. Every single student – including the new ‘First Year Students’, are a member of one of those districts. (Freshmen who will ultimately be in Business or Ed start out in L&S) Are they dually represented, if they have both Freshmen Representatives and the reps from their school? Yes, but we’ve been OK with that. The idea is that students who weren’t on campus in the spring should have some chance to participate,  by voting and/or by running, and so some seats are set aside for a fall election, as the “Freshman” seats.

So, what about transfer students? That’s another 1200 undergraduate students who weren’t on campus last spring and who didn’t get to vote or run in the election. We haven’t worried about them, because they had representation from the reps already elected from their school. But, using that logic, there’s no reason to have an election for Freshmen representatives, because they’re also already represented by the reps from their school. Any argument that you can make for allowing Freshmen to participate in a fall election also applies to a transfer student – including that we need their perspective on the council. Therefore, in the interest of fairness and enfranchising as many students as possible, here is ‘Option Two.’ Here’s the language:

Renumber section 6.02(1) to section 6.02(1)(a). Create section 6.02(1)(b) to read:

For the purposes of participating in the fall election, ‘Freshman’ shall mean any undergraduate ASM member classified as a ‘First Year Student’ or ‘Transfer Student’ by the Registrar.

You should be able to see where this is going. New Graduate and Professional students are also represented by people they didn’t vote for nor did they have an opportunity to run for a seat. This is perhaps even a bigger problem for some graduate students, because there are masters programs that can be finished in two semesters. That means, for some students, they enter the University in September, get their first chance to vote in April, and graduate in May. We can do better by them.

That brings us to ‘Option Three’, which I will be moving to the floor on the August 22nd 2009 meeting. The language is:

Renumber section 6.02(1) to section 6.02(1)(a). Create section 6.02(1)(b) to read:

For the purposes of participating in the fall election, ‘Freshman’ shall mean any ASM member classified as a ‘First Year Student’, ‘Transfer Student’, or ‘New Student’ by the Registrar.

This effectively enfranchises every student, and guarantees that everyone will have the opportunity, in his or her first semester on campus, to fully participate in ASM. Reentry students had an opportunity to vote before they left, but we could create an option four to address them:

Renumber section 6.02(1) to section 6.02(1)(a). Create section 6.02(1)(b) to read:

For the purposes of participating in the fall election, ‘Freshman’ shall mean any ASM member who was not an ASM member the previous spring.

I won’t be moving this to the floor, because I’m most interested in engaging students who have never participated in an ASM election, but I wanted to provide option four in case anyone wanted to go there.

Now for the really wonkish part: the Constitutional question involved. There are two lines from the ASM Constitution to consider here:

VII.1 Freshman Representatives shall be ASM members who are freshmen, elected at the Fall elections. Seats shall be apportioned among reasonable academic units by law every four years.

And VII.2

Shall serve for one year. No person may serve more than two full terms as SC Representative. Terms for all Representatives except the Freshman Representatives shall begin May 1st. Terms for the Freshman Representatives shall begin immediately after the Fall elections.

Let’s start with the easiest thing first: It is completely within the Council’s power to create a new “district” for “First Year, Transfer, and New Students” and allocate it five seats, and say that there are zero Freshman seats on the council. The problem is that the terms don’t line up, and only the Freshman seats run October-October. If we created a new district, the term would still expire on April 30th.

Is the plan to redefine ‘Freshman’ Constitutional? Yes. The SJ has already ruled that the definition of the ‘Freshman’ district could be redefined. Could it be redefined so far that it included new graduate students? That’s the rub. The constitution just says ‘ASM members who are freshmen.’ I think it’s pretty clear this is completely compatible with Option One.  It’s more of a stretch for Option Two and Three, but I think it’s within the Council’s power to define the term. The SJ may have to decide. That actually gets very complicated, because in order for the SJ to get involved, an ASM member has to be “harmed.” In this case, it would have to be a “freshman” who was harmed. Given that the most likely outcome is only “freshmen” will win seats, it’s most likely the case that no “freshman” will be harmed.

If we want to be completely safe, a simple constitutional amendment could be added, which would change VII.1 and VII.2 to change “Freshman” to “New Student”. If it were to pass, we’d be completely set: no challenge to the redefinition of ‘Freshman’ could be filed until after the election, but as soon as election is over and the amendment passes, there’s no longer any basis to file a challenge.  We’ll call that the ‘Constitutional Amendment Option’, and it will be a separate resolution, but they should be discussed together. It would read something like:

Shall the ASM Constitution, sections VII.1, VII.2, and VII.3 be amended to change ‘Freshman’  to ‘New Student’, which would allow for more students to run and vote in the Fall election?

(The SEC/SJ would also place the two versions of the text on the ballot)

OK, if you’ve gotten this far, congratulations. The hope is that by laying out four different versions, covering nearly every possibility, it will be easy for other council members to easily offer substitute motions, and keep the debate moving quickly. We’ll see if it just makes things more complicated or if actually helps.

Asking the right question (or, this would have stopped Union South)

In 2006, I voted for the Union Initiative, but only because I wanted to invest in Memorial Union. To me, the Union South rebuild was an obnoxious example of the First Rule of Government Spending (why buy one when you can have two at twice the price?) I know that I am not the only person who voted “Yes” for the initiative because they wanted to modernize Memorial Union, despite Union South. I am also sure that many people voted “No” to stop Union South, despite wanting to improve Memorial Union.

The questions should never have been tied together as an all or nothing proposition. Borrowing language from the state constitution, ASM should amend its bylaws to require anything put to referendum to ask each question separately. Had this been a requirement in 2006, there would not be a big hole where Union South was, and students who won’t even be born for another 12 years wouldn’t be stuck paying to fill it.

You may ask, why does this matter now, after the Union question has been settled? The most obvious concern is the upcoming Natatorium rebuild. Some versions of the plan have included a SERF renovation. These are separate questions, and the case should be made individually for each of them.

This is actually not critical to finish in the fall semester. I haven’t heard of anyone trying to put a referendum on the fall ballot. If this were delayed until a council meeting later in the fall, it’d be fine.

For the interested reader, here’s the language that I’m proposing:

Create section 6.08(1)(a) of the bylaws to read:

All non-constitutional questions placed on an initiative, referendum, or recall measure shall be submitted in such a way that members of the ASM may vote for or against each question separately.

Create 6.08(1)(b) to read

All challenges to initiatives, referenda, or recall measure arising under 6.08(1)(a) must be filed within five days of the ballot being published under section 6.05(6). Initiatives, Referenda, and recall measures may remain on the ballot while the SEC and the Student Judiciary review the challenge.

6.08(1)(b) is to try and prevent post-election SJ battles over whether or not a ballot question is really separate as a strategy a losing side could employ.  It may be appropriate for the council move to strike 6.08(1)(b) and just let the SJ figure it out some day in the future.

ps The new Union South really needs a better name, and since students are paying for the thing, we should get to name it. When we come up with a name for it, we should keep in mind that it’s in the heart of the sciences on campus and across the street from the Institutes for Discovery, and that in twenty years there will almost certainly be a third union out on the west end of campus, in the middle of the health complex.

August ASM Meeting

During the summer, when many students are not on campus, ASM operates under a set of rules that are meant to ensure that things can get done, but still protects the larger, absent group of students from those that are still in town. An example of one of these protections is that the small group of students still in town cannot change the ASM bylaws during the summer.

ASM’s definition of the summer session ends two weeks before fall semester classes begin, which this year is September 2nd.  This means the August 22nd council meeting will be operating under normal rules, and will be able to change bylaws. (It also means that the quorum threshold is higher, so this could be a very short meeting.)

Now, there are a number of bylaws things that need to be fixed, from our outdated standing agenda to reforming the coordinating council. We don’t need to do them all at this meeting, and really waiting until classes actually start would be better. However, there are some changes that are important to implement in time for the fall election, and we have some calendar constraints if we want to get them done.

The election is not flexible – it is the third week of October. Working backwards, the election commission needs enough time to create a ballot, set a filing deadline, hold training sessions, and to formulate and announce election rules. Election bylaws really should be set before any of the rules are issued, and the election commission thinks they can start no later than September 15th.

Bylaw changes must be passed at two meetings. The next three council meetings are August 22nd, Sept 2nd, and September 16th. So, if we’re going to make changes to election rules, we have to do it this meeting.

At the 22nd meeting, I’ll be proposing a few changes. They would require referenda to ask separate questions and change the definition of freshman so more students are eligible to participate in the fall elections. I will detail each of these in separate posts.