Madison Catholic Diocese plans to turn headquarters into rental housing

By Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal, September 26, 2013

The Madison Catholic Diocese has reached a tentative agreement with a  developer to vacate its headquarters at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral  Center on the city’s Far West Side and turn the former seminary into rental  housing.

Under the plan, the diocese will lease the building for 60 years to developer  Gary Gorman, whose company will renovate the 232,000-square-foot structure and  create 100 to 150 apartments. The diocese will retain ownership of the  property.

Bishop Robert Morlino announced the plan to about 120 priests gathered  Wednesday in Wisconsin Dells for an annual meeting.

The decision is not because of budget problems, said Monsignor James  Bartylla, the diocese’s second in command. Rather, the aging O’Connor Center,  702 S. High  Point Road, is underused and would require more than $15 million in capital  improvements over the next 30 years to keep it as the diocese’s headquarters, he  said.

This is the best way to preserve the legacy of a landmark building while  being good stewards of church finances, Bartylla said.

“It strikes a balance between the economics of the situation and preserving  the history of the diocese,” he said.

Diocesan officials expect to save an estimated $500,000 annually by getting  out from under the costs of operating the center. In addition, the lease  agreement will provide revenue to fund church activities, diocesan spokesman  Brent King said. The lease amount has not been set but likely will vary over the  course of the agreement, he said.

If the plan goes through, it will be a for-profit venture by Gorman &  Company, and the property would return to the tax rolls, King said. “This is  only just and reasonable,” he said.

Only about 36 percent of the building’s square footage is being used right  now, Bartylla said.

The diocese will need to find a new home for its administrative offices,  including the bishop’s office. Catholic Charities also is based at the center.  Together, about 100 people work at the site, King said.

A new site has not yet been found for the offices. It likely will be leased  space, not existing diocesan property, because no parish would have the amount  of square footage needed, Bartylla said.

Additionally, the O’Connor Center is home to four retired priests and five  active priests. New quarters will be found for them, King said.

The chapel, located in the center of the building, will be preserved, but its  use in the future has not been determined, Bartylla said.

At the end of the 60 years, the building would revert to diocesan control. A  firmer development agreement is expected by Nov. 15.

The lease agreement would cover only about 10 acres of the 72-acre Bishop  O’Connor Center site, Bartylla said. No decisions have been made on the future  of the other acres, he said.

Realistically, renovation likely would not begin until next summer or fall,  said Gary Gorman, chief executive officer. The company anticipates spending $30  million to $40 million to renovate the building, he said.

Gorman said the rental housing would be for the general public, not targeted  to Catholics. He envisions it appealing to “working people on the West Side who  don’t want to live in a generic white box — people who want to live somewhere  interesting.”

The company will renovate the building as a “certified historic  rehabilitation,” in accordance with historic preservation guidelines prescribed  by the National Park Service, Gorman said.

Gorman has a long history of working with the diocese as a developer.  Additionally, he has served as a board member and board president of Catholic  Charities. He attends Holy Mother of Consolation Parish in Oregon.

The Bishop O’Connor Center was first known as Holy Name Seminary, opening to  students in 1964. The seminary closed in 1995.

Both parties will jointly approve a name for the redeveloped site.

“The time is right to consider how best to use that place for the ministry of  the church,” said the Rev. Paul Arinze, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption  Parish in Beloit. “When the bishop was talking to us, he reminded us that we are  like fathers at home — you have a wife and children and must constantly make  decisions based on what’s best for the future of the family.”

Sure, there is sentimental value to the building, said Monsignor Daniel  Ganshert, pastor of two parishes in Watertown and among the first students at  Holy Name Seminary. But priests recognize that change is part of life and part  of the ministry, he said.

“I’m just happy the building is still going to be there,” he said. “It’s  going to stand there like it has for the last 50 years and remind us and  encourage us to look to the future of the diocese and its people.”

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