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Saint John's plans for new 20-story east side tower with apartments and medical services for seniors

Saint John's on the Lake would develop a new tower, with up to 20 stories, at the Milwaukee east side senior housing community under preliminary plans.

The new $80 million tower would have 50 beds for older people who need nursing care and 24 assisted living apartments on its lower four to five floors, said Renee Anderson, president at Saint John's Communities Inc.

The building's upper portion would have up to 15 floors, with as many as 75 apartments for seniors who can live independently, Anderson said.

The tower would be built on what is now an employee parking lot, just south of E. Kane Place, at the northern edge of Saint John's complex, 1756-1850 N. Prospect Ave.

It would replace the skilled nursing beds and assisted living apartments now housed within a three-story building south of the future tower site.

That building was constructed in 1979, and Saint John's wants to provide updated units for those residents, Anderson said.

The new tower would connect to the three-story building, which would likely be converted into such features as a dining venue and meeting room for Saint John's residents, as well as offices for employees, she said.

Meanwhile, there continues to be strong demand for independent living apartments, Anderson said, with 160 families on a waiting list.

Saint John's features a 10-story, 111-unit apartment building, which opened in 1979, and a 21-story, 90-unit building that opened in 2011.

Saint John's Communities, a nonprofit operator, has started holding informational meetings to see if it can attract enough prospective residents to obtain financing for the proposed tower, Anderson said.

Saint John's likely needs signed agreements for 52 of the 75 independent living apartments before it can obtain financing, she said.

Those funds would be raised by selling Wisconsin Health and Educational Facilities Authority bonds. That allows Saint John's to borrow money at a lower interest rate because the bond purchasers don't pay taxes on those investments.

The new development, like other senior health care facilities operated by nonprofit corporations, would be exempt from paying property taxes, Anderson said.

Saint John's apparently doesn't need Plan Commission or Common Council approval to develop a 20-story tower. That's because the site's zoning is designed to encourage density, according to the Department of City Development.

Anderson said the tower would be designed to have smaller floors for its upper portion with the independent living apartments.

That would help preserve views of Lake Michigan from neighboring properties and Prospect Ave., she said. The project's architects are Eppstein Uhen, of Milwaukee, and Blitch Knevel, of New Orleans.

The project's tax-exempt status "raises troubling issues about tax fairness," said Ald. Robert Bauman, whose district includes the site.

"In other words, this project may add a quality building to the built environment but will not add to the tax base," he said.

Construction would likely begin in spring 2018 if the project obtains financing by the end of this year, Anderson said. The tower would take up to two years to complete.

Many of Saint John's residents moved there from the east side and North Shore suburbs, Anderson said. But a large number also come from communities from throughout the Milwaukee area.

"You've got a migration of baby boomers toward the downtown area," she said. The average age of residents at the 21-story tower was 78 when that building opened six years ago.

Aging baby boomers, and their growing interest in downtown living, also are driving one other possible east side high-rise: Mandel Group Inc.'s proposed 24-story Portfolio, which would create 235 luxury apartments at 1350 N. Prospect Ave.

Mandel announced plans last year to begin construction this summer.

Since then, commercial loans for large apartment projects have become more difficult to obtain, leading some Milwaukee-area developers to cancel, delay or downsize their plans.

Tom Daykin
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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