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.”