The Plan Commission denied a proposed redevelopment of the Wonder Bar and Coliseum Bar at 222-232 Olin Ave. on Monday night, voting unanimously to place the proposal on file without prejudice.
The proposal called for the demolition of the historic Wonder Bar and the Coliseum Bar in order to construct an 18-story, 290 unit mixed-use residential building with commercial/retail space.
A potential demolition of the Wonder Bar — an historic haunt of old Chicagoland gangsters — prompted a cascade of public opposition. On Monday afternoon, a petition calling to save the Wonder Bar reached 2,690 signatures.
Following hours of public testimony, much of which was in opposition to the development, there was a motion presented by one commissioner to approve the proposal. But because no one seconded that motion, it failed and a subsequent motion to place the proposal on file was unanimously approved.
Placing the proposal on file enables the development team, led by Lance McGrath, to re-work the proposal, which members of the Plan Commission said they would like to see happen.
“The reason I move (to place on file) is because there are a lot of merits to this proposal and this could be an opportunity for the developer to bring back a revised proposal for us to review,” Ald. Lindsay Lemmer said.
Commissioner Jason Hagenow said the idea of demolishing the Wonder Bar added to his list of concerns that led him to vote to place the proposal on file.
“I am very much opposed to this project simply because of the demolition of the Wonder Bar,” Hagenow said during the meeting. “As far as the (proposed) building itself goes, I have some concerns about the overall height of the building. However, I think this is a prime area to put some much needed housing and add some density.”
The height of the building was brought up several times during the meeting. At 201 feet, it would have been the tallest mixed-use residential building in the city and would have been a towering gateway to downtown from John Nolen Drive.
Tag Evers, who represents a district that borders the proposal, spoke during the meeting and said he understood the need to provide more housing density, but that this particular proposal presented too many concerns.
“We are facing a profound housing shortage... and the housing shortage speaks to our affordable housing issues,” Evers said. “If you follow through with Ald. Lemmer’s motion, the developer could use this time to address the concerns and find an acceptable solution to the Wonder Bar.”
Ald. Sheri Carter, who also represents a bordering district, said she felt conflicted about the proposal.
“I’ve had environmental concerns and concerns about the height of the building,” Carter said. “The bigger concern is about the impact on South Madison over the next few years. ... We need to really look at redevelopment in this area of South Madison and how we do it.
"I’m not opposed to this project, I’m conflicted.”
Carter said she was taken slightly aback by the opposition brought on by historic preservationists.
On several occasions over the last year, groups of residents who are in favor of historic preservation have mobilized against proposed redevelopments of historic or semi-historic buildings, areas or streets.
Proposals for Langdon Street, Lake Street, State Street and now the Wonder Bar location have been met with staunch opposition by people who don’t want to lose pieces of Madison’s history to redevelopment.