City leaders ‘hit pause’ on development that would demolish Wonder Bar

MADISON, Wis. — Madison’s plan commission is choosing to table a proposed 18-story mixed-use building project that would have included the demolition of Wonder Bar, a building with historic ties to the Prohibition Era.

The commission voted unanimously Monday night to place the proposal on file without prejudice, essentially hitting “pause” on the project and allowing the developer to modify its proposal and come back to the commission at a later date.

Many members acknowledged the project, which proposed 16,000 square feet of commercial space and 290 apartments at Olin Avenue and John Nolen Drive, had merit but needed further adjustments before they could approve it.

Some members objected to the height of the building, which at its proposed height would be visible from many parts of the city. Others objected to the demolition of the Wonder Bar, which was originally built in 1929 and served as a hub of illegal alcohol bootlegging during Prohibition.

Historic preservation groups have been trying to save the structure since plans for the development were announced. During Monday night’s meeting, some members of the commission talked about the idea of moving the building to another location — a costly process, and one preservationists told News 3 Now is impossible because the building is too heavy to carry over the bridges and railroad tracks in the area.

Preservationists are still working to get the building added to the National Register of Historic Places and had asked city leaders to delay a decision on the demolition of the nearly century-old bar.

By placing the agenda items on file without prejudice, the plan commission keeps the possibility of the project open while giving the developer time to adjust plans and see how the historic preservation process plays out.