Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

School Will Be Redeveloped, But Into What?

Committee endorses zoning change for former Catholic school on East Side.

By - Oct 26th, 2021 01:34 pm
Former St. Peter St. Paul School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Former St. Peter St. Paul School. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A proposal to redevelop a former Catholic elementary school continues to gain support, but its future use is still to be determined.

St. Peter St. Paul Parish and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have sought to sell the school at 2480 N. Cramer St. for more than four years. The Gothic Revival-style building was constructed in 1912.

A partnership of Matter Development and Galbraith Carnahan Architects, the latter serving as a co-developer and project architect, has stepped up to buy and redevelop the 30,000-square-foot building. The partners are seeking a zoning change to enable a broad range of potential uses for the property.

The partners are focused on three potential redevelopment scenarios: an arts collective, a complex of 30 studio apartments or a villa-style hotel and events venue. But the change requested would also allow it to house everything from a funeral home to a library.

The Department of City Development is recommending a detailed planned development, effectively a custom zoning designation for the property that would explicitly authorize a select list of uses. The designation is often used for a new building, but not an existing one.

“The uses they are now proposing just don’t align with our general zoning districts,” said DCD planning manager Sam Leichtling on Tuesday morning. “This is not a discussion around design as much as what uses are appropriate there.”

The Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee reviewed the request Tuesday. The citizen-led City Plan Commission previously endorsed the change, with conditions, in September.

“The applicant has since met all of the conditions,” said Leichtling. That includes striking a tavern or brewpub as a potential primary use, restricting the size of signage and refining the parking plan for the development. A valet arrangement would allow a future event operator to fill the remaining, paved church property with vehicles.

“I think it’s fair to assume given trends in the marketplace that this is going to be heavily used as a wedding venue,” said Alderman Robert Bauman. He singled out a Villa Filomena, a house-turned-event venue at 1119 N. Marshall St. in his district, as a potential example of the difficulties that could ensue from late-night noise as people leave. Nearby residents of that Yankee Hill property regularly oppose renewal of its liquor license.

Is area alderman Nik Kovac prepared for such issues? “It’s his phone that will light up when neighbors start to complain,” said Bauman.

“It’s a concern,” said Kovac, who is familiar with the Villa Filomena complaints from his many years on the Licenses Committee. But he said that was the appropriate body to address a potential noise issue. Any future use of the sort would require an annual licenses hearing and operating plan, even if the zoning change was approved.

Kovac said the Villa Terrace venue in his district has similar late-night sound concerns, but given that it’s in a lower density location than Filomena it was easier to get all of the neighbors together with Villa Terrace management to come up with a solution. He said the school, surrounded by the church and houses, falls somewhere in between the two Villa-branded venues.

The alderman is supportive of the zoning change as a means of saving the building. A neighborhood meeting held in September found attendees were as well, with 13 in support, four voting “maybe” and two voting no.

“The building in its current condition is becoming very deteriorated. It’s also at risk because the church does not have the financial resources to restore it,” said Aaron Matter of Matter Development. The building is decaying inside, with plaster falling and columns showing water damage. The Cream City brick that appears light or white on the exterior is a sign of water penetration, not cleaned bricks.

The building includes a basement with high ceilings and classrooms as well as a sizable attic that could house apartments. A challenge for the redevelopment is a two-story auditorium in the middle of the building.

“We have spent lots and lots of time on this project so far, as has city staff and Alderman Kovac and we are very grateful for that,” said Matter. “The renovation will be very costly, as all historic renovations are.”

The proposal relies on the use of historic preservation tax credits, which would partially offset that cost in exchange for maintaining the building’s historic integrity.

“When I was approached by the parish board several years ago they didn’t say they were planning to tear it down,” said the alderman, but he noted that the absence of a real fallback plan and the lack of resources indicated that private redevelopment was the only viable option to save the building. “The alternative would likely be tearing it down.”

The church, rectory, convent and Catholic East Elementary School are not included in the redevelopment.

The full council will consider the zoning change next week, but, as is customary, no public hearing is scheduled.


Building Photos

Interior Photos

Other St. Peter St. Paul Buildings

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