More than four months have passed since two city panels gave conditional approval to a proposed redevelopment of the Waukesha County Museum site, but the project still has not progressed beyond the planning stage — to the chagrin of city officials and the developer.
At Waukesha's most recent landmarks commission meeting April 6, the latest plans for the project — a high-end apartment complex at 101 W. Main St. — received mixed reviews from commissioners and city staff. The project was initially proposed in February 2015 in part to help the financially struggling museum.
The plans presented this month included an outdoor 'plaza' area above a parking garage situated in front of the connector building between the county's former courthouse and jail, both built in the 19th century. The garage was necessary, developer Alan Huelsman said, to accommodate the number of on-site parking stalls required for the project.
Some commissioners expressed disapproval of the new design and suggested a return to the previously approved plans, which called for a 32-unit apartment complex and for the conversion of an old jail into a banquet hall.
Under those plans, the museum would sell the property to Huelsman, who owns local Historic Prairieview Limited, but would still maintain a limited presence by leasing a portion of one building.
Time a concern
Members of the panel, city staff and the Huelsmans expressed some frustration at the April 6 meeting about the amount of time it has taken to secure preliminary approval of the project.
'With an old building like (the museum), time is not your ally,' said Catherine Huelsman, wife and business partner of Alan Huelsman, who was traveling and wasn't immediately available to comment on the latest round of discussions. She also emphasized that the building is not publicly owned and could be sold at any time.
However, all the parties involved with the proposed development agreed to have representatives meet in an informal 'subcommittee' to discuss the project before the next landmarks commission meeting, set for May 4.
City Planner Maria Pandazi said in an email that the subcommittee group was in the process of scheduling that meeting and expected it to happen either this week or next.
Plans for museum
Meanwhile, the museum's executive director, Dennis Cerreta, said he is continuing to work on reopening the museum, which has been closed to the public since May 2015 — with the exception of a community-wide event last June celebrating what would have been Les Paul's 100th birthday.
'I think everybody wants this to be successful, to finalize this design,' he said of the development project. 'I sure do.'
Cerreta said he anticipated that a limited portion of the museum — contained in the existing reception area of the former courthouse building — would be open two days a week, Friday and Saturday, around the end of July. That portion of the museum would feature exhibits on Les Paul and the Civil War, he said.
'We're still going to try to rebuild the education program and still try to be open and do what we do,' Cerreta added.
He said the museum as a whole was expected to reopen in January 2018.
'The museum remains positive,' Cerreta continued. 'We're closed but our arms remain open.'