The Wisconsin Historical Society and private developers are only beginning to put a look and shape to a new history museum and private mixed-use project that could cost as much as $255 million where State Street meets Capitol Square.
Under the current scenario, the Historical Society, Hovde Properties and landowner Fred Mohs would demolish the existing museum and all other buildings on the block bounded by North Carroll, West Mifflin and North Fairchild streets and West Washington Avenue, except for Grace Episcopal Church and the historic Hovde building.
Hovde and Mohs own eight of nine buildings — but not the Silver Dollar Tavern — around the existing museum and are working with the society to maximize the site’s potential. The partnership allows the museum to expand horizontally, a preference for modern facilities.
“We’re excited,” Eric Hovde said. “It’s been 20 years in the making. We do believe the museum has to be on Capitol Square. It’s the perfect location.”
The partners have not completed a design, but preliminary concepts would have a single development that would feature the new $120 million, 100,000-square-foot museum on the bottom floors with $95 million to $135 million in commercial space and housing above part of the site rising to the state Capitol height limit, about 180 feet. The uses would share a multi-floor underground parking garage.
The latest thinking would have the museum be an integrated yet separate structure with views of the state Capitol, State Street, Overture Center and Central Library, Historical Society director Christian Overland said.
“Our building is going to be lower,” he said. “It’s going to be a different architectural style. It needs to read as a different building. People need to see this part of the development as a museum, not as an office building or residential.”
The project still needs to be approved as part of the state’s capital budget and a developer formally selected before starting construction, which could begin in 2020 with an opening in 2024 or 2025.
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The private use likely will feature office space along Carroll Street facing the Capitol and some office space facing Mifflin Street, Hovde said. Earlier, it seemed a hotel would be a good fit along Fairchild Street before a recent boom of Downtown hotel construction and approvals, he said, adding that the housing element could be apartments or condos.
“Now, we have to pick up the ball and start making assessments,” he said.
The Historical Society, Hovde and Mohs have also been weighing two other important factors — if the state Veterans Museum across the street will join the project, and the fate of Hovde’s historic, nine-story Churchill Building, 16 N. Carroll St., the city’s first “skyscraper” built in the neoclassical revival style in 1915.
The Veterans Museum has been leasing space since 1993 in a building built in 1965 at 30 W. Mifflin St.
“Redeveloping this area and providing the public with a modern space to learn is important to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum,” said Carla J. Vigue, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. “Right now we are still considering all of our options.”
Under the current concepts, the Churchill Building would be demolished.
Hovde acquired the 134-foot-tall building in 1974. Eric Hovde said he likes the look of the building and has explored if it could be preserved but learned that course is “completely impractical,” partly because the structure has very shallow footings and would be at risk of crumbling or toppling as the new development proceeded around it.
If the building could be retained, it would require investments of $8 million to $10 million to shore up the property and complicate the critical loading and parking elements of the redevelopment, Hovde said. “It’s not realistic,” he said.
In early 2018, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation submitted a landmark nomination for the building but withdrew it after learning it could cause major complications for the museum project, trust president Kurt Stege said.
“I’m torn,” he said. “This is a very important part of the city and has a lot of history associated with it. I’m hopeful they will end up with a building that justifies the location.”