Ansay scraps St. Mary’s apartment project

Even with TIF financing and tax credits, firm that is working on multiple Port developments says school renovation too expensive

A RENDERING SHOWS Ansay Development’s proposed redevelopment of the former St. Mary’s School in Port Washington. The firm said Tuesday it is dropping the plan, which it said is not economically viable.
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Ansay Development announced Tuesday it is dropping plans to redevelop the former St. Mary’s School in Port Washington.

“It’s a disappointment for us. We just couldn’t make it work,” said Ian McCain, design/construction manager for Ansay Development, which is working on two other high-profile developments in the city. “It turned into a challenge from a financial perspective.

“Even with the potential of city support from a tax incremental financing district, we couldn’t overcome the complexities of the project. We have regretfully allowed our option on the property to expire.”

City officials used the word disappointing to describe their reaction to the news.

“I think it’s very disappointing,” Mayor Marty Becker said. “I think it’s too bad for the church, the school and the city. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the school. It’s probably just going to sit there and sit there. If a well-financed developer like Ansay can’t make a go of it, I don’t know who can.”

Ansay has been working for more than two years on a plan to convert the former school and parish house into as many as 30 market-rate apartments — a plan that in addition to city TIF financing hinged on creating a historic district that would encompass the two buildings as well as St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the former rectory and ultimately provide needed tax credits to help finance the project.

Ansay “got fairly close” to a verbal approval of the district and tax credits, McCain said.

The plan also would have created a plaza at the corner of Van Buren and Johnson streets and reconfigured parking in the area.

Ansay had said work on the project could begin this year, with an eight-month construction period expected. The value of the completed project was expected to be between $3.5 million and $5 million.

McCain noted that Ansay, which had agreed to pay St. John XXIII Catholic Parish $625,000 for the former school and parish building, spent hundreds of hours and a significant amount of money planning the development.

“We’re proud to have given it a run,” he said. “This would have been a hell of a project. We really wanted this to happen for the community.”

McCain praised the city and the parish for their role in the redevelopment effort, saying, “There was a lot of creativity and expertise that helped with the process.”

Parish Pastoral Coordinator Bill Henkle said, “We were hopeful the deal would have come to pass. This project seemed to have all sorts of up-sides. We knew there were significant hurdles. 

“To fall short after having worked on it for quite some time was indeed a letdown.”

The parish will now market the property with an asking price of $695,000, he said.  

“Hopefully a new buyer will come along and find a way to make it work,” Henkle said.

City officials said they fear Ansay’s news doesn’t bode well for the former school.

Ald. Mike Gasper, whose district encompasses the building, said, “If we gave them a TIF (district) and they still couldn’t make it work, that doesn’t bode well for anything else happening there.”

“It’s really too bad. It was a good project,” Bob Harris, the city’s director of planning and development,  said. “They gave it a good run. Financially, it was just a bit too far.”

Ald. Paul Neumyer said, “I’m disappointed for the city, for the church and for the neighborhood especially. These projects with these old buildings, you just never know how they’ll go.”

The fact that the building has a significant amount of asbestos may doom almost any redevelopment of the building, he said.

“Who knows what’ll happen there now. They may have to eventually tear it down — the land’s probably worth more now than the building,” Neumyer said.

McCain said Ansay’s $15,000 in earnest money will remain with the parish and the firm is donating an additional $10,000 to defray the cost of maintaining the property.

“We understand they have challenges and we wanted to assist with them,” he said. “The parish trusted us enough to take a run at the project. We wanted to leave them in as good a position as we could.”

Ansay continues to work on its marina district developments, McCain said.

It just finished work on the model unit at its Lake Harbor Loft condominium project on Washington Street, he said, and has several potential buyers for the units there.

The firm is focusing its energy on finishing the other units in the building, then will begin work on the northern building on the lot. Concrete work for the second building is likely to be done “soon” to ensure other work can be done during the winter.

Ansay is also continuing to sell condominium units for its planned Newport Shores development, McCain said. 

“We have had sales,” he said. “We’re pretty optimistic on where it’s going. Our plans haven’t changed.”

But he would not comment on when work on the project would begin.

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