|Waukesha Freeman 02/26/2015|
Apartment project proposed for museum
• Interim museum director: ‘We now have a future’
• Plan includes 42 luxury apartments, underground parking
• Former jail & connector buildings would be demolished
Huelsmans’ company to purchase historic building
By Sarah Pryor Freeman Staff WAUKESHA — Big changes could be in store for the long-struggling Waukesha County Museum, and Interim Executive Director Tom Constable said it’s the first step in securing a future for Waukesha County’s history. Historic Prairieville Limited Partners plans to purchase the museum’s property at 101 W. Main St., raze two buildings on the site and build a 42unit luxury apartment complex in their place. If approved, the development will feature two floors of underground parking for residents and museum employees, Constable said. In the meantime, the museum will downsize and occupy the first and second floor of the historic former Waukesha County Courthouse building, leaving the third floor for a banquet and meeting space once the original 1893 courtroom is restored, said Alan Huelsman, a partner of Historic Prairieville Limited. Huelsman said the courtroom restoration should yield an event facility on par with the nearby Rotunda, another event venue owned by his family. Constable said renovating the courtroom is something museum staff has dreamed of doing for years. “Our perspective is we’re not only preserving the building through this action — the original courtroom will be restored and brought back to its original splendor,” Constable said. “This is a major gain for the community.”
‘We’d like to save the museum’ Constable said growing the tax base by putting an apartment building on a site that currently houses two tax-free buildings — the 1885 original jail building and a 1930s-era connector building — will be a huge benefit for the city, and downtown businesses would benefit from more foot traffic from the new apartment dwellers. The museum building will likely be sold to Historic Prairieville for a nominal price and then the museum will enter into a 25-year lease agreement to stay in the building, paying something like $1 per year for rent, Constable said. “What’s most important is that we have an opportunity to save the museum and this is Phase 1 of that, which is to get out from under the heavy costs of an aging building,” Constable said. It costs up to $150,000 annually for museum maintenance costs — a significant chunk of the budget for an organization that recently lost all its funding from the county. Waukesha County had given the museum $300,000 annually for more than a decade until the 2014 budget, when it cut its support in half to $150,000. This year, the county budget defunded the museum entirely. With that cost out of the way, Constable can focus fundraising efforts on other, more important components of the organization, he said. “I have been worried about whether the museum will succeed, and this is the first step in giving us the assurance that will happen,” Constable said. “We now have a future.” Most exhibits, including the Les Paul exhibit, would need to be relocated and more efficiently stored for the museum’s pared-down 25,000-square-foot space, Constable said. However, he doesn’t think the Les Paul exhibit would need to be diminished. “Frankly, it’s been a pretty important piece for us,” Constable said. The next step is asking the appropriate city committees for all necessary building approvals, and Huelsman said no plans are set in stone yet. “We would hope it would have some historical elements — maybe carry over some of the peaked roofs and gables from the courthouse building into the new building. We don’t know yet. We’re still at the front end of this,” Huelsman said, adding that his wife Catherine was on the board of the museum for a while so it holds a special place in his family’s heart. “We’d like to save the museum,” he said. What if the plan doesn’t get the required approvals? “The worst-case scenario is that we close,” Constable said. “And if that happens, the Wisconsin State Historical Society has control over all the artifacts that we have. We fully expect this proposal to go through.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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