Wyalusing Academy property re-zoning

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Planning Commission to 

recommend re-zoning of 

former Wyalusing Academy property

By Ted Pennekamp


The plan for the former Wyalusing Academy building, 601 S. Beaumont Road, to become a 40-unit apartment complex cleared a minor hurdle Monday night as the Prairie du Chien Planning Commission voted 7-0 in favor of recommending that the property be re-zoned from R-1 (low density residential) to R-3 (high density residential). 

About 20 people attended the meeting to hear the presentation by Commonwealth Development of Fond du Lac, Wis. and the subsequent discussion by the Planning Commission. A public hearing on the proposed re-zoning will be held at the Jan. 5, 2016 City Council meeting, at which time a vote may be taken on the matter. All residents who live within 200 feet of the property will be notified of the public hearing. 

Kevin McDonell, vice president of development for Commonwealth, said that Commonwealth is a developer, a general contractor, and has an in-house architectural department. McDonell said that converting the Wyalusing Academy main building into an apartment building would support about 100 local construction jobs. When completed, the apartment building would add to the city’s economy and tax base, he said.

“We’re very excited for the opportunity to provide affordable, quality housing,” said McDonell, who noted that the apartment building will be a certified Wisconsin Green Built Home because it will be environmentally friendly and energy efficient. 

McDonell said the apartment building would have approximately 80 parking spaces in the current parking lot. He also said that the rent for a two-bedroom apartment is projected to be about $600 per month, while the rent for a three-bedroom is projected to be approximately $700. 

Commonwealth Development projects have typically drawn 20-30 percent senior citizens as renters, McDonell said.

McDonell said that the project will be financed through historic tax credits, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) tax credits and bank financing. A very rough estimate for the cost of the project has been stated as $8 million. The combination of historic tax credits and WHEDA tax credits has the potential to pay for approximately 80-85 percent of the cost of the project, McDonell noted.

“We have a great relationship with WHEDA,” said McDonell. “We are their top-rated developer.” McDonell said that if the property is re-zoned, Commonwealth will apply to WHEDA in January for the tax credits. He said that if everything goes well, construction could begin in the fall of 2016 and the project could be completed in the fall of 2017.

City of Prairie du Chien Zoning Administrator Julie Jackson said that the re-zoning, if approved, would be for the entire former Wyalusing Academy property, not just the main building. The entire property is 14 acres. McDonell said that any plans to develop other parts of the property would be several years down the road. 

The property is owned by River to Valley Initiatives (RVI) of Prairie du Chien. RVI will eventually sell the property to Commonwealth Development, who would manage the apartment building and the property. McDonell said that Commonwealth plans to keep the property. He said Commonwealth, which was founded in 2001, has developed 30 such properties and has never sold any of them.

When the development is complete, it will be taxed based upon its income, said McDonell.

“I’m really excited to see this project at Wyalusing Academy move forward, to put new life back into it,” said Planning Commission member Tom Nelson, who noted that he was the first teacher at the former Wyalusing Academy.

Because of the use of federal and state historic tax credits, the project would be overseen by the Wisconsin Historic Preservation Office in order to ensure the historic integrity of the building, while at the same time modern renovations are done such as new, energy efficient furnaces, air conditioning units and an elevator, for example.

In 2014, RVI, a non-profit corporation based in Prairie du Chien, was selected by the former property owner, Clinicare of West Allis, Wis., to develop the property to be a positive and sustainable entity. The directive was to preserve the historical integrity of the property and save it from demolition, while preserving the tax base.

Amenities for the residents of the proposed apartment building to enjoy would include a community room, computer room, fitness center and an on-site property management office. Historically significant features such as the hardwood flooring, stone work, the gym, and chalkboards will be restored to ensure the building continues to provide its historical look.

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