‘Too Darn Costly’

A Milwaukee church building that closed its doors in November may soon be resurrected as an event venue and apartment complex.

St. James’s Church, built in 1867 at 833 W. Wisconsin Ave., had been for sale for several years. Milwaukee developer Joshua Jeffers and a group of investors purchased the building and have been seeking the city’s approval for a development plan that would see the sanctuary preserved for events run by local chef Oliver Hunt. Plans include partial demolition of the parish hall to accommodate developing support facilities and 35 apartments in a seven-story building.

Urban Milwaukee reports that Jeffers has secured the city’s approval, with construction slated to begin as early as summer:

The complicated project was unanimously endorsed by the five-member Historic Preservation Commission, but only after Jeffers and project architect Mark Ernst of Engberg Anderson Architects presented their plans for the fourth time. The proposal was first introduced in November and went through four meeting cycles. Prior to Monday’s meeting the commission had deadlocked on the proposal with a 2-2 vote and one member absent. Commissioner Patti Keating Kahn, who was excused from the February meeting, was present at Monday’s meeting and made the deciding motion to move the project forward.

The venerable [P]rotestant church, originally constructed in 1867, held its last service on November 1st, with the congregation folding at that time. The building, historically-designated by both the city and federal government, has been listed for sale for a number of years with an asking price of $695,000. With dwindling membership, the congregation could no longer afford the expense of maintaining the large facility.

“It became evident why this property has been for sale for many years; it’s just too darn costly to turn it into anything else,” Jeffers told the commission in December. Those thoughts were echoed by Engberg Anderson partner Mark Ernst who said his firm has studied reusing the building, considering four or five different plans.

The key to the whole proposal is the partial demolition of the parish house and the addition of apartments. The parish house, attached to the rear of the church, was built in 1899. “For us to convert the 1899 addition into something that is both historically accurate and built to modern code compliance, it would be enormously costly. … This building has more asbestos in it proportionally than any other building I’ve seen,” Jeffers told the commission in December.

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