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Wisconsin Historical Museum exterior (copy)

The Wisconsin Historical Museum (foreground) is preparing for expansion, and the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has decided to withdraw their historic landmark nomination of the Churchill Building (background), that, if preserved, would significantly limit the project’s design.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

The Wisconsin Historical Society wants to expand its Capitol Square museum, and the huge project is now one step closer to reality.

The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation has decided to withdraw their historic landmark nomination of a nearby building that, if preserved, would significantly limit the WHS project design.

The massive proposal, to be funded by the state and a WHS campaign, would redevelop the current museum on the first block of North Carroll Street and expand on the neighboring properties to create a 100,000 square-foot museum. Hovde Properties and landowner Fred Mohs would build up to 250,000 square-feet of commercial and residential space on top of the museum.

Museum officials have said the current space at 30 N. Carroll St. is too small to keep up with 77,000 annual visitors, and limits the type and size of exhibits.

“It was my dream to build a new Wisconsin History Museum, and it still is,” former Gov. Tommy Thompson said in a statement. “It’s just an absolute necessity.”

The project would like to expand into the space of the 103-year-old Churchill Building, originally known as the Gay Building, at 16 North Carroll St. But in February, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation filed a local landmark nomination for the building.

Built in 1915, the building is known as Madison’s first skyscraper, and the MTHP says it was influential in “setting building height limits that continue to preserve our views of the Capitol from afar.”

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, MTHP President Kurt Stege said in February that the MTHP filed the nomination after hearing about potential redevelopment, but didn’t realize this would cut into the museum’s plans.

They’ve since withdrawn their application, and explained the move in a statement, citing “lengthy communications with the key parties.”

While the organization still believes the Churchill Building is worthy of landmark status, it “recognizes that new development is important to the economic and social vitality of Madison and is sensitive to balancing the interests of historic preservation with a desire to have Madison benefit from highly respected examples of new architecture,” the statement says.

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The statement also noted that the WHS and MTHP share similar missions, and expressed faith that the new museum will be constructed in a way that “both incorporates exceptional architecture and furthers the public’s appreciation of Wisconsin’s unique culture.”

The project still has a ways to go: necessary steps include acquiring the Silver Dollar Tavern at 117 W. Mifflin St. and the WHS raising $50 million in the span of just eight months.

MTHP’s withdrawal of the nomination is included on Monday’s Landmarks Commission agenda. Also on Monday’s agenda is a proposed change to Madison ordinance that appears to be aimed at a conflict between two Williamson Street landlords. The dispute between Chuck Chvala and Kris Warren — owners of 906 and 912 Williamson St., respectively — has included an argument over parking, charges of trespassing and allegations that the conflict has prevented Warren from performing necessary maintenance on his historic building.

Alds. Ledell Zellers and Marsha Rummel have proposed an amendment that would obligate property owners "in historic districts and next to Landmarks to refrain from engaging in behavior that contributes to the exterior decay of a neighboring property," and let "property owners to avoid prosecution for failing to maintain their building if, through no fault of their own, they are being prevented from doing so by a neighbor.”