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The plans for the former St. James Episcopal Church include a seven-story addition. (PHOTO: Engberg Anderson)

St. James transformation plan includes a mixed-use tower

In September, the sad news of the closing of St. James Episcopal Church, which had been at 833 W. Wisconsin Ave. for more than 165 years, was tempered by word that a group of partners – including developer Josh Jeffers, Shawn Hittman and The Hidden Kitchen owners Oliver Hunt and Kate Crowle – plan to open a wedding and events venue in the building.

Now, on Monday, Dec. 11, the city's Historic Preservation Commission will consider a resolution on a new apartment tower that is being floated as part of the project. The seven-story building – which would also include event and support space for the venue in the church building – would replace parish house, added in 1899 to the south of the church.

The commission must approve the proposal as the church is a designated historic property.


Floor plan of the main floor of the proposed venue in the former church.

According to the Certificate of Appropriateness Application Form required by the commission, and completed by J. Jeffers & Co., "a new addition is proposed to be constructed that will provide the adequate accessible facilities for the historical church building as well as the new commercial spaces in the addition. This will allow us to match the level of the existing church for accessible access and routes through the building.

"The church is proposed to be used as an event venue. Support services for this space will be located in the addition which will also host a second event venue taking up most of the existing parking lot east of the existing parish house."

The application describes the appearance of the new structure, which has been designed by Engberg Anderson Architects of Milwaukee. The courtyard between the church and the adjacent St. James Court apartments would become an outdoor gathering space as part of the plan.

"The addition will have a dark masonry base with a light masonry entrance at the end of the courtyard that will use color tones to complement the material of the church. The courtyard will be developed as an extension of the event venues as additional outdoor gathering space. The remaining portion of the addition will be programmed as housing and provide a backdrop to the church as to not detract from its historic character. The darker fiber cement panels will enhance the visual character of the church as the public experiences (it) upon arrival into the courtyard or event space traversing past the site on Wisconsin Avenue."

Back in September, Hunt – who did not immediately respond to a request for comment today – said the project was expected to be complete by May 2019.

"Really what we're shooting for is not just weddings, but events of all kinds," he told me when the news first emerged. "The sanctuary will be perfect for weddings, business meetings, maybe the odd fashion show. What I call the back ballroom will be another venue, with an open showroom kitchen. That would be suitable for events with visiting chefs."

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