Developer announces new plans, schedule for dual-use project

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The oft-discussed proposal to transform portions of the Waukesha County Museum into high-end apartments is at long last moving forward with a new design.

If plans hold, patrons could see the museum, at 101 W. Main St., reopen for good by the end of the year.

That was the message from local developer Alan Huelsman and the museum's executive director, Dennis Cerreta, during a recent interview about the project, which has been in the works for more than two years.

"We're thrilled about this new direction," Cerreta said.

Revised plan

The new plans call for a reduction in the number of apartments to be built, from 32 to 27, on the second and third floor of the museum – which is housed inside the former county courthouse, jail and a connector building between the two. As revised, the plans also call for the addition of some office spaces and relocation of all the museum's exhibits to the building's first floor.

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A banquet hall in an old courtroom on the third floor of the courthouse is also planned. Construction is expected to begin this summer.

The $5 million project will be partially funded through historic preservation tax credits, Huelsman said. Those credits help cover renovation costs of historic buildings in return for following design and building guidelines.

New architect

The latest iteration of the plans was designed by a new architect, Jennifer Lehrke of the Sheboygan-based Legacy Architecture firm, who has extensive experience with historic preservation projects.

That fresh perspective was welcome, Huelsman and Cerreta said. There were some problems with earlier plans drawn up by the previous architect, Gene Guszkowski.

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One of the designs that received mixed reviews from city officials had called for the creation of an underground parking structure at the museum, a proposal Cerreta said was not viable.

"It just wasn't an efficient use of the space," Huelsman added.

That design was proposed as a possible resolution to the problem of limited available parking on site.

Huelsman said that issue has now been resolved because he purchased a 30-space parking lot from St. Matthias Episcopal Church, which is just east of the museum.

Museum reopening

A key component of the proposal has been the preservation of the museum, which in recent years fell on hard times and was in danger of shuttering.

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That is no longer the case.

Under Huelsman's concept, the museum would enter into a long-term lease agreement with Historic Prairieview Limited – which Huelsman owns – to remain in the building. His team would be responsible for the building's expenses and maintenance, which in the past rocked the museum's finances due to the age of more than century-old former courthouse.

Cerreta said under the new plan, he expects the museum to fully reopen by the end of the year. (It opened with limited weekend hours in August.)

"Our spirits are very high right now," he said.

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