MADISON — A Madison icon, the former Holy Name Seminary, a neo-colonial revival landmark that welcomed its first students in 1964 and has served as the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center (BOC) since the seminary closed in 1995, may be transformed into a multi-family housing community, officials at the Diocese of Madison announced Sept. 25.
The diocese signed a letter of intent with Gorman & Company to enter exclusive negotiations for a development contract and 60-year lease agreement to renovate the building as a “certified historic rehabilitation” in compliance with historic preservation guidelines prescribed by the National Park Service.

According to the letter of intent, the Diocese of Madison would retain ownership of the BOC land to be leased, as well as determination over the use of the approximately 72-acre Bishop O’Connor Center.

The building that would be redeveloped by Gorman would revert to diocesan control at the end of the 60-year lease. In the interim, the diocese would relocate its administrative offices, and those of Catholic Charities and its other tenants, on a mutually convenient date before construction starts.

The diocese retains the right to approve the final redevelopment plan – which calls for residential use – before a binding lease is executed.

Gorman & Company has agreed the O’Donnell Chapel, located at the center of the building, would be sensitively preserved in a manner consented to by the diocese. Both parties would also approve an appropriate name for the redevelopment that reflects the historic significance of the property for Catholics of the Madison Diocese.

In commending the potential of the BOC redevelopment project, for the future of the diocese and the partnership with Gorman & Company, Bishop Robert C. Morlino observed: “While giving thanks to God for all his gifts in the past, and for the tremendous blessings of the present, this project allows us, in a very concrete way, to look forward to the church in the future.

“Although growth nearly always involves some level of sacrifice, this project, carried out with an excellent partner, will allow the church to preserve, for the long term, her material goods, while focusing most urgently on that which is most precious – the faith of her people.”

The diocese’s decision to sign a letter of intent with Gorman & Company to repurpose the building is grounded in years of due diligence through its committee and leadership structure to determine the future of the aging and underutilized seminary building.

A strategic stewardship plan for the BOC’s assets is a key element in supporting the diocese’s goals, including the cultivation of future church leadership through the dynamic growth of the diocese’s seminarian program, which has quintupled under the direction of Bishop Morlino in the past 10 years.

As part of its multi-staged evaluation process, the diocese engaged several recognized experts, including Kothe Real Estate Partners and zumBrunnen – a national leader in facilities forecasting – to assess the financial viability of the BOC and to help forge viable options to address the building’s aging structural and systems issues.

Among the findings by the diocese’s consultants were that the BOC will require more than $15 million in capital improvements during the next 30 years, but only sustain an average projected building utilization rate of 36 percent.

Despite the diocese’s strategies of diversifying the tenant base, which includes administrative offices for the diocese and other Catholic non-profit organizations, apartment suites for active and retired priests, conference and meeting space, retreat guest rooms, as well as a catering business – the 232,000-square-foot building was never designed for mixed use and offers only 59 percent leasable space, creating an ongoing operating challenge.

If the Gorman development moves forward, diocesan officials predict savings on BOC operations in the range of $500,000 annually, as well as a positive revenue stream over the life of the lease to help sustain its numerous ministries and parishes throughout the diocese.

(King is communications director for the Diocese of Madison.)