Milwaukee Common Council votes down Marcus Center historic designation

Paves way for planned renovation project

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The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday voted against a proposal to designate the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts as historic, paving the way for the center to move forward with its planned renovation.

The council defeated the motion in a 4-11 vote.

The historic designation proposal, initiated by two Milwaukee area architects, would have slowed the center’s plans to revamp the campus, which will include replacing the current horse chestnut tree grove with a new grove of honey locust trees.

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Preservationists who supported the designation argued the grove had historical value because it was designed by prominent post-war landscape architect Dan Kiley. The Marcus Center building, completed in 1969, was designed by prominent Chicago architect Harry Weese.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission approved a temporary historic designation for the Marcus Center in February, and recommended the center for permanent historic status in April.

Marcus Center officials want to remove the current chestnut tree grove and replace it with 18 honey locust trees.

The Marcus Center plans to make a series of upgrades to its downtown campus, located at 929 N. Water St., over the next three to five years. Plans include expanding the center’s plaza, installing new water fountains and establishing a flexible great lawn for events, which will require the removal of the trees. A host of interior improvements at the center are also planned.

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The historic designation would have required Marcus Center officials to receive Historic Preservation Commission approval before making any changes to the building or grounds.

Aldermen voting in support of the historic designation on Tuesday included Robert Bauman, Nik Kovac, Jose Perez and Tony Zielinski.

Marcus Center spokeswoman Heidi Lofy said the center can now proceed with finalizing its plans for the grounds, but it doesn’t have a firm schedule for when construction will begin.

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“No one cares more about serving this community and the success of this organization than our staff,” said Paul Mathews, president and chief executive officer of the Marcus Center. “We have been exceptional caretakers for the past 50 years and by implementing our vision, we intend to do so for the next 50 years.”

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