One of the largest remaining privately owned undeveloped parcels on Lake Monona could soon be for sale.
San Damiano, originally an estate built by Allis-Chalmers heir Frank Allis, has been serving as a home for semi-retired Capuchin priests. The last priest will be moving out by mid-March and the Catholic religious order that owns the property, the Norbertines, is having it assessed for possible sale.
The nearly 10-acre parcel in Monona boasts more than 1,000 feet of shoreline and offers spectacular views of the state Capitol and Downtown Madison.
“This is a very special property, unique for the entire county,” said Sonja Reichertz, Monona city planner. “There is no other undeveloped shoreline in the city, other than parks, and I believe almost everything else around the lake is already fully developed.”
The property is tax-exempt, so it has no city-assessed value.
“It’s going to command a hefty selling price, and it deserves to,” said Madison-area developer Kevin Metcalfe. “It’s such a beautiful piece of property.”
Metcalfe said he paid about $2 million in 2006 for just under two acres of property fronting Lake Monona not far from San Damiano. It is now Water Crest Condominiums, which sell for $200,000 to $700,000 each.
Homes on Lake Monona with a fraction of the lakeshore frontage often sell for $1 million or more and typically top out around $2 million to $3 million, said Shelly Sprinkman, a Madison-based real estate agent who specializes in high-end properties.
“The size of this parcel is far beyond the scope of a single-family residence,” she said.
Putting a value on the property will be challenging for whoever does the work, said Madison-area appraiser John Rock.
“In a case like this, there are so many variables,” he said. “This parcel is an exception in terms of frontage, depth, location, views.”
The historic property at 4123 Monona Drive is owned by the Norbertines of Saint Norbert Abbey in De Pere. Abbot Gary Neville, who leads the community of priests, said selling the property is one option but that nothing has been decided.
“We’re the only piece of undeveloped land on that lake, so there’s always been a lot of interest in it over the years, and there are a lot of ideas out there floating around,” he said. “We’re waiting to get an assessment, and once we have good, solid information, we’ll sit down and talk about our options.”
Leasing the property to another group also is a possibility, Neville said.
The three-story, 14-room mansion was built in 1888 as the manor for the 600-acre Allis farm and estate. The house passed through several owners, including former Madison Mayor Adolph Kayser, before it was donated in 1928 to the Norbertines.
Since 1975, the Norbertines have allowed the Capuchin friars to live in the house. The facility first was used as a house of prayer by the Capuchins, then evolved into primarily a residence for a handful of priests, said the Rev. Gary Wegner, provincial vicar, or second in command, for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph in Milwaukee.
The Capuchin priests assisted parishes in the Madison Catholic Diocese, filling in at Mass and officiating at weddings, funerals and baptisms. The Capuchins have decided to consolidate priests at fewer sites around the country, Wegner said.
Only one friar remains at San Damiano, and he will be moving to Montana to help develop a Capuchin community on a Crow Indian reservation, Wegner said.
The house is a City of Monona landmark, but the city’s historic preservation ordinance “does not offer much in protection,” said Ray Krizmanic, chairman of the Monona Landmarks Commission.
He toured the house Tuesday and said the interior has changed substantially over the decades.
“To try and restore it is probably impossible,” he said. “The amount of money it would take would be incredible.”
For years, there have been rumors in Monona that the Norbertines would never be allowed to sell the property because of a deed restriction put on the parcel by the donors. However, extensive record searches have not found any language that would prevent a sale, Krizmanic said.
In 2007, the Wisconsin Historical Society ruled the house was not eligible for placement on state or national historic registers because too many of the original features had been altered, Reichertz said.
The property encompasses 9.81 acres and includes 1,046 feet of shoreline, according to city records.
Monona Mayor Bob Miller toured the property two weeks ago with several Norbertine officials.
“My impression is that they’ll take their time in deciding who should obtain the property, and that it will not necessarily go to the highest bidder,” he said. “I just get the feeling they want to leave Monona in a positive way.”
Miller describes himself as “very pro-development” but said that’s not the case this time.
“This parcel was never developed, and I like it that way,” he said. “The land remains a gem.”
He hopes creative uses may surface.
“To use a church analogy, miracles do happen that could preserve that land or at least some public access to the water,” he said.
One thing seems certain, Miller said: The city likely won’t have a part in the transaction.
“I’m assuming it’s out of our price range,” he said.