Two architects seeking historic designation for Marcus Center

Would slow down redevelopment plans of downtown campus

The revamped plaza.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:10 pm

Two Milwaukee architects have filed an application with the city to designate the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts a historic property.

The proposal – filed by Jennifer Current, a landscape architect with Quorum Architects, Inc., and Mark Debrauske, principal and architect with the Tredo Group – follows the recent unveiling of a plan to redevelop the Marcus Center’s downtown campus over the next three to five years.

Those plans would involve altering the landscape architecture – most notably removing a grove of trees – that was designed by prominent post-war landscape architect Dan Kiley.

Marcus Center leaders have said they want to create a more open and accessible gathering place for the community on the campus, located at 929 N. Water St. Plans include creating a park-like setting in front of the Peck Pavilion, which will include expanding the plaza, installing new water fountains (replacing the fountain at the corner of Water Street and Kilbourn Avenue) 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.

In December, Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Cultural Landscape Foundation raised concerns with the redevelopment plans, designating the Marcus Center a “nationally significant at-risk and threatened cultural landscape.”

The Marcus Center was designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese in the Brutalist style and completed in 1969. Weese was famous for designing the Washington Metro system during that same era.

Kiley, whose work included Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis and the Art Institute of Chicago’s South Garden, teamed up with Weese on the Marcus Center project, following their collaboration on an arts complex at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The city’s Historic Preservation Committee will consider the request for a temporary historic designation on Feb. 4. A temporary designation is used to prevent demolition or irreversible changes to a property before a permanent application can be processed. The designation can last for as long as 180 days. Current and Debrauske have also filed a separate application for a permanent designation.

If approved, the designation would require the historic preservation committee to approve any changes to the building’s exterior.

Heidi Lofy, vice president of sales and marketing for the Marcus Center, said the proposal could negatively affect the center’s ability “to proceed with the proposed enhancements to the building and grounds in a timely manner.”

“In planning the changes for the building and landscape, we were very thoughtful about honoring the original design while meeting the dynamic and changing needs of our community,” she said. “With the grove, in particular, we worked to align the new design with one of Dan Kiley’s key principles – “to reconnect human beings with their space on their land.”  The new design does exactly that, updating the grove to make it accessible to everyone while creating a more vibrant, welcoming and interactive space.”

Debrauske said the goal is to slow down the process of redeveloping the landscape and allow more time to develop an alternative plan.

“We want people to realize what we would be losing and maybe think of some solutions, solutions that would meet the (Marcus Center’s) needs and preserve what’s there,” he said. “There are some really great designers and people who would love to tackle that problem.”

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