Ansay’s plan for St. Mary’s School hinges on historic listing

Developer’s apartment proposal depends on tax credits that come with national designation

ST. MARY’S CATHOLIC SCHOOL and the parish center to the south would be converted to apartments under a plan by Ansay Development Corp. The plan calls for the buildings to be named to the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring they will be preserved in perpetuity and providing tax credits for the renovations.
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The future of a proposed redevelopment of St. Mary’s Catholic School in Port Washington hinges on two things — a pay-as-you-go tax incremental financing district and National Register of Historic Places designation and the tax credits it may bring, the Port Washington Common Council was told Tuesday.

Ian McCain, Ansay’s design/construction manager, said the firm will seek the National Register designation for not only the school building, which was built in 1916, but also the parish center immediately to the south.

The designation would also include the former rectory to the north of the school, which is today Anita’s Gardens assisted living. The church is already on the register.

Officials with the state Register of Historic Places have toured the site and seem to indicate it would be an acceptable option, McCain said.

The school is “a wonderfully preserved building,” he said, although it has issues with such things as asbestos. “National Historic status will ensure it is saved and preserved in perpetuity.”

Ansay would use the school and parish center to create between 28 and 32 market-rate apartments, McCain said. These apartments would be a mix of studio, one, two and three-bedroom units.

“We do believe there’s a strong market for this,”  McCain said.

Some of the classrooms are large enough that they can be directly converted to apartments, he said.

Ald. John Sigwart questioned whether the units could be converted to condominiums, noting that Ansay’s Lake Harbor Loft project on Washington Street started as apartments but was later changed to condos.

That’s not expected, McCain said.

Because the current school parking lot would be used for the apartment development, Ansay has worked with the city to come up with a plan that would create 99 parking stalls around the church that could be used for Masses, weddings and funerals, McCain said. These spaces would be signed to facilitate parish parking.

The plan also calls for a significant amount of landscaping, especially at the corner of Van Buren and Johnson streets, he said. 

McCain said work on the project could begin by the end of the year, with an eight-month construction period expected.

The value of the completed project would be between $3.5 million and $5 million, he said, adding that the property is not currently on the tax rolls but this valuation would be.

In addition to the tax credits that a National Register designation would bring, McCain said, Ansay needs the city to create a pay-as-you-go TIF district for the development. 

Unlike most TIF financing, where the city provides funding up front and is repaid through increased taxes on the property, in a pay-as-you-go TIF the developer takes out the necessary funding and is repaid through the increased taxes.

If the development does not produce the revenue needed to pay the costs, the developer has to make up the difference.

Ansay has not yet determined how much TIF funding the project would require, McCain said.

“I think this is the perfect but-for example,” McCain said, citing the TIF requirement that a redevelopment would not occur “but for” the district.

Father Pat Wendt, pastor of St. John XXIII Parish, said only one other developer had even inquired about the building.

“We will be done with the building on June 7,” Wendt said. “It will be sitting empty.” 

Mayor Marty Becker said this is an ideal project for a pay-as-you-go TIF district, noting that the funding is needed to ensure the building is developed, the city currently gets no tax revenue from the property and there is no risk to the city if the project were not successful.

“People who don’t like TIFs, this is the reason you would do a TIF,” Becker said. 

He also praised the project, saying, “It’s a great school. It’s solid. It has good bones.”

Ald. Paul Neumyer concurred, saying “It’s a great project. If they (Ansay) walk away, we will end up with a building that could be blighted (in the future).”

But Ald. Deb Postl disagreed, saying the city can’t afford another TIF district since the city wouldn’t receive any tax revenue from the property until the district ends years into the future.

“I know there’s a certain level of sentimentality with St. Mary’s,” Postl said. “But I don’t believe the city can afford any more deferred revenue plans. We have budget challenges.”

Ald. Mike Gasper, who is an opponent of TIF districts, said, “In the case of this project, it would be much more palatable.”

But, he said, he would prefer to either see a short-term TIF district or have Ansay establish a base value for the property so the city would receive some tax revenue during the life of the TIF district.

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