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Waukesha is another step closer to saving its history and among its most historic buildings.

The city's plan commission on March 22 unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for the Waukesha County Museum apartment project, a development that aims to turn portions of the museum, at 101 W. Main St. and housed in the former county courthouse, jail and connector building, into high-end apartments.

The approval marked definitive progress in the project, which has languished in its preliminary stages for more than two years.

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 closing.

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But under local developer Alan 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 the courthouse and former county jail, which were both constructed in the late 19th century. The connector building between the two was constructed a few decades later.

The $5 million project is being funded with historic preservation tax credits.

Parking issue

Key among the issues discussed by the commission was parking, which has long been a concern.

City Planner Maria Pandazi said the building will require 50 parking spaces to comply with city code.

Huelsman has purchased a parking lot just east of the museum, from St. Matthias Episcopal Church, and is in talks with the Waukesha Freeman about buying an undetermined number of stalls from the newspaper's parking lot, which is just west of the museum.

ARCHIVES: New apartment complex part of plan to save county museum

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Pandazi said Huelsman still needs to present a more detailed plan for the layout of the St. Matthias lot. After he does, the city will know about how many spaces he needs to pick up in the Freeman lot, she said.

Revised plans for the project now call for 30 apartments – down from 32 – to be built on the second and third floors of the museum along with four office suites, ranging in size from about 1,100 to 1,400 square feet, on the second floor of the old courthouse.

A banquet hall in an old courtroom on the third floor is also planned.

The museum's exhibits, galleries, education and research centers and offices will be situated on the first floor, according to planning documents. Construction is expected to begin this summer.

Museum Executive Director Dennis Cerreta said in an interview last month that if the project proceeds according to plan the museum – which is currently operating on limited hours – could fully reopen by the end of the year.

Future approvals for the project from the city's common council and landmarks commission are still required.

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