Is the Marcus Center a Historic Building?
Two architects have nominated 1969 building for historic designation, which would slow redesign.
Jennifer Current, landscape architect at Quorum Architects and Mark Debrauske, principal and architect at the Tredo Group, filed an application with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to have the 3.65-acre property added to the city’s list of locally-designated historic structures.
The designation, should it be approved, would require that any future changes to the building’s exterior, including the grove of Horse Chestnut trees designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley, are subject to city oversight.
Historic designation would not scuttle the center’s redevelopment, proposed in early December, but would establish design standards to guide future modifications. Planned exterior changes would be required to comply with those standards and receive a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission. Should the commission reject any such changes, Marcus Center officials could appeal the decision to the Common Council.
The Marcus Center board hired architecture firm HGA to design a series of changes to the county-owned facility. The goal, according to a press release, was to “secure its vitality for the next 50 years.” Those plans include a number of exterior changes to the building, including replacing or expanding the use of glass to connect the Brutalist structure with the surrounding area. New concession and lobby spaces along the building’s west and south sides are intended to provide more “visual connections” between the grounds and building.
The grounds of the campus at 929 N. Water St. would be redesigned as well, with the tree grove and fountain replaced with an entirely new layout. Marcus Center executive director Paul Mathews told Urban Milwaukee in December that those changes were designed to make the area more accessible and engaging.
Should the city approve the permanent designation, the 50-year-old performing arts center would be the youngest, historically-protected building in town. The building was designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese, with the surrounding public grounds designed by Kiley. An addition was built in 1992.
While the historic commission and Common Council debate permanent designation, a temporary historic designation could be issued. That designation would effectively prevent any changes to the building’s exterior or grounds for up to 180 days.
Placing the building’s status in limbo could impact the timeline for construction. Mathews told Urban Milwaukee that he expected work to begin in 2019 on the first phase of the changes. The center also recently held an open house to showcase UW-Milwaukee student design concepts for a broader cultural campus to be created around the Marcus Center.
Debrauske told Urban Milwaukee he is looking for the “‘and’ solution, where the current needs are met while preserving the inherent value of the original design.”
The commission’s next scheduled meeting is set for February 4th. An agenda has not been released. The commission is required to hold a hearing on the nomination within 45 days.
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Related Legislation: File 181570