A Milwaukee historical foundation squeezed its request for $2 million into the state budget for a restoration project and then abruptly reversed course, telling state legislators they can keep the money for now.
But Mary Panzer, vice president of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home Foundation Inc., said the organization would return to the Legislature, likely in fall, to ask again for the money. The estimated $6 million project would restore buildings on the 90-acre Soldiers Home on the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Medical Center in Milwaukee.
Members of the state’s Joint Finance Committee added the $2 million to the 2011-13 budget this month to help restore the Soldiers Home, a veterans care settlement established by former President Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, presented the motion June 3, the final day of committee meetings.
But two developments, Panzer said, pushed the foundation to ask that the $2 million be removed from the budget. She said the foundation learned that this summer, the Soldiers Home will receive National Historic Landmark status, which would make the site eligible for federal historic preservation tax incentives that could cover about half of the project cost. Also, Soldiers Home was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 most-endangered historic places in America.
The developments changed the foundation’s planning for the project, Panzer said.
“You’d always rather be there than not there, but in terms of this project, which will be a decade long, these buildings have been sitting there for a while and I would rather get everything right,” she said. “With any project, it’s important to have solid planning done.”
Bob Delaporte, Darling’s communications director, said the senator planned to continue working with Panzer this year and expected to introduce a bill for the restoration money in fall.
The foundation has received about $500,000 toward the restoration project, about half of which was from a Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service.
Panzer said plans for buildings at the site include providing veterans services at the Old Main building, which had a roof collapse in a February snowstorm, and a performing arts program at the Ward Memorial Hall.
Before recognizing a building as an endangered historic place, the National Trust evaluates the significance of the site, urgency of the threat for deterioration and the possibility for a solution, said Genell Scheurell, senior program officer for the national organization’s Midwest office.
“Old Main had the roof collapse, supporting joist inside collapse, there are holes near the roof letting water in, and nothing will damage a building faster than letting water in,” Scheurell said. “And the Ward Memorial Theater has also had some very serious problems in terms of roof leaks and structural member collapses.”
Scheurell said she trusted Panzer’s decision to decline the state aid for now.
“In preservation, planning is critical,” Scheurell said. “You need to know what’s going to happen to those buildings.”
Eric Peterson, chief of staff for state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said the money likely would be there when organizers are ready for it.
“There is a general feeling this is a good thing,” he said. “I think any time the majority party (Republicans) is ready to do this, they can get it done.
“I give the foundation credit for being fiscally responsible enough for saying, ‘We’re not ready for it.’ That is rare.”