Council rewrites law protecting historic Madison buildings

Council rewrites law protecting historic Madison buildings

The Madison City Council unanimously made it more difficult Tuesday night for historic landmark owners and operators to let their buildings fall to pieces.

After four years of work, the first rewrite of the city’s landmarks ordinance, since it was first passed in 1971, includes a fine system.

Alders said the new version clarifies the city’s commitment to historic preservation and provides more certainty to those who wish to redevelop a landmark or develop in a historic district.

Supporters said the biggest changes are designed to ensure historic landmarks, like the Orpheum Theatre, are well maintained.

Orpheum owner Gus Paras bought the theater in 2013 in a state of utter disrepair.

“I take a lot of pride to say I own the Orpheum,” Paras said. “I want to restore it.”

So far Paras has spent $2.5 million restoring it back to its original 1926 state.

Paras said spending the money was entirely necessary because the former owners were allowed, under the old city law, to let the Orpheum rust away.

“How dare you. Building like this. Let it go. It’s ridiculous. When I first started to see how bad this building was, you would freak out.,” Paras said.

Paras hopes the rewritten city law means more historic buildings like his never need saving — just care and compassion.

Since taking over the Orpheum, Paras has installed a new roof, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing systems.

Paras said he will spend until the job is done, no matter what the cost. Part of that spending includes the theatre’s sign.

Monday the Landmarks Commission approved taking down the old Orpheum sign, which has no lights, and replacing it with an original replica.

Paras wants to have it up and running by the first snow.