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As guests enter the introductory media theater at the proposed Wisconsin Historical Society museum, they could be surrounded by compelling imagery, inspiring quotes and live-event broadcasts. This rendering shows underwater archaeologists interacting with visitors.

As it plans a new, world-class facility, the Wisconsin Historical Society is bringing a statewide effort to get public input on the project to Madison for the first time this week.

The Historical Society and private developers, determined to fulfill a 20-year dream, are pursuing a striking new history museum with commercial and residential space above it on the Capitol Square. It could be the city’s biggest project ever.

The state, Historical Society, Hovde Properties and landowner Fred Mohs have long eyed for redevelopment part of the block that fronts the Square and holds the current, undersized museum and surrounding properties.

The Historical Society is pursuing a $120 million, 100,000-square-foot museum that would more than double exhibition space and provide learning, meeting and flexible spaces with state-of-the-art technology that would attract 150,000 visitors annually. It would be topped by the Hovde-Mohs $80 million to $120 million private development bringing 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of commercial and residential space.

In recent months, the Historical Society initiated a series of more than 40 events to get input on the museum from diverse populations across the state.

“This is a rare opportunity for the public to be a part of this process and to provide their vision of how the new museum can present Wisconsin and their history to create relevant stories that have local significance and national impact,” said Historical Society director Christian Overland.

The first events in Madison are:

  • Performances and a listening session during a Black History Month celebration from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday — with a focus on the proposed museum from 6 to 7 p.m. — at the society headquarters, 816 State St.
  • A community listening session from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Goodman Community Center, 214 Waubesa St.

The Historical Society also plans events in Madison for April 10 at Warner Park, 1625 Northport Drive; May 8 at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Road; and June 8 at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center, 501 E. Badger Road.

“It is important to tell people’s stories in their voice from their community,” Overland said. “You can’t plan a Wisconsin history museum sitting in a conference room; you have to go out and plan it with the people across the state.”

The project had stalled in recent years, but the state Department of Administration last year sent a letter to the Historical Society saying that if it could raise $50 million, the state would deliver the remaining $70 million for the museum. With that commitment, the Wisconsin Historical Foundation launched a bid to raise the $50 million with former Govs. Jim Doyle and Tommy Thompson as campaign co-chairs.

Gov. Tony Evers is set to propose a state budget for the next biennium on Feb. 28.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.