Financing delays result in scaled-back version of Milan Estates development
When Steve Witkowski first appeared before the Village of Saukville’s Plan Commission two years ago, he had a grand plan to create a residential senior campus on the east side of Foster Drive.
The two-phase project, Milan Estates, was going to have six ranch-style, independent-living condominiums and an assisted-living apartment building.
Witkowski said those plans took an unexpected detour, thanks to the nation’s stumbling economy.
“It became a real financial struggle. The money just wasn’t available,” he said.
After repeated attempts, Witkowski managed to secure funding for a scaled-back version of the project last October. Construction on the 18-unit, assisted-living building at 715 Milan Dr. began weeks later and is now complete.
The original plan was to have a private health-care provider operate the assisted-living facility, but during the lengthy maneuvers to nail down financing the negotiated arrangement fell apart.
“At that point, we decided to run the facility on our own,” Witkowski said.
With a 20-year career in accounting, Witkowski knows the financial process well. He is a partner with Anderson Tackman & Co. in Mequon.
Although convincing lenders proved to be a challenge, local interest in the senior development has been strong, Witkowski said, with the first resident scheduled to move in on Sept. 1.
“The location off I-43 gave this project a lot of visibility. People were watching the construction progress closely,” he said.
Witkowski is familiar with the area, having previously owned the nearby Super 8 motel.
In fact, when he pitched the plan to Saukville officials, Witkowski noted that the senior apartment units would be almost identical to the suites at the motel.
“It just worked out that way,” he said.
Each apartment is approximately 500 square feet, with a living room, bedroom, private bathroom with walk-in shower and kitchenette equipped with microwave oven and refrigerator.
Each room has an emergency call system and individually controlled thermostats so residents can keep their surroundings as warm or as cool as they please.
The selling points of the project are in the common areas, highlighted by a central gathering room with a cathedral ceiling, gas fireplace, large-screen TV and lots of windows overlooking a wooded setting.
The central entry leads to the gathering room, which separates the residential wings.
The building also has a physical therapy room, beauty salon, library, laundry and commercial-grade kitchen that residents will be allowed to use.
A large parking area will be used primarily by employees and visitors, because most residents do not drive any longer.
Transportation will be arranged through Ozaukee County’s shared-ride taxi.
As a licensed assisted-living facility, Milan Estates will be staffed around the clock. Laura Berweger, a registered nurse with extensive background in geriatric care, is the on-site administrator.
“The way it looks now, I expect to be here six days a week,” Berweger said.
“I am just excited to finally have residents moving in. I have been on staff for about six weeks and am anxious to begin working with people.”
Although only a handful of units have been spoken for, eventually the facility will have a staff of five caregivers.
Berweger embraces the concept touted by Saukville officials that Milan Estates should fit in well with an entertainment corridor being developed around the site.
“One of the goals we will have is having activities to keep our residents involved. Physical activity is a great way to slow muscle degradation, whether that means going to the Marcus Cinema,
the local restaurants, the two grocery stores in the community or the Walmart,” she said.
“And, having a motel nearby will be great for family members who need a place to stay while visiting our residents. Our proximity to Highway 33 and I-43 also makes the facility easily accessible for visitors.”
Berweger seems to be a natural fit for the assisted-living facility because of her sensitivity to older people and a passion for learning about the past.
“I love history, and I find it fascinating to talk to people about the history they have lived through. Even in Alzheimer’s patients, you often find they have short-term memory loss and can’t tell
you what they had for lunch, but remember conversations they had from high school,” Berweger said.
As a Class C assisted-living facility, no more than one resident in need of special assistance can live in a unit. There are two rooms that could handle a married couple, provided one spouse is able-bodied.
The facility will be open to private-pay residents. Rates start at $4,250 a month, and rise based on the level of care needed.
For now, Witkowski said, plans for the senior condos have been dropped.
“I’d like to see how the assisted-living project is received. My hunch is I’ll be ready to move into the building myself before I seriously think about another phase,” he said.
Even without the senior condominiums, Saukville Community Development Director Brian Biernat said Milan Estates should fit in well with the Foster Commons vision.
“Recent demographic analyses have shown that seniors today have more disposable income and free time than in the past. They are also living longer and healthier lives,” Biernat said.
“People make the place and a diverse residential base in this district will provide the desired activity that lends to sustainability. This is why I am actively searching for additional residential development that serves young professionals and commuters, whether that be through condo development, luxury apartments or combinations of both.”
MILAN ESTATES OFFERS assisted-living accommodations for senior citizens just off Foster Drive in the Village of Saukville. Photos by Mark Jaeger