The hunt for a venue for a new men’s homeless shelter continues for the city of Madison after a seller backed out of an initial, tentative deal to put the facility on the city’s east side.
Kara Havens Prange, the property owner, told officials late Tuesday evening she would pull out of a purchase and sale agreement with the city to a vacant two-story, 22,584-square-foot structure at 4111 East Towne Blvd that used to serve as a day care center. Havens Prange said she would sell the property to another unidentified party instead, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
"Obviously, this is unexpected and disappointing news," Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. "But it will not deter the City and the County from our serious intent to develop a new shelter facility."
The announcement came the day after a press conference in which Rhodes-Conway and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi detailed their plan to buy the former Play Haven Child Care site and an additional property at 4101 East Towne Blvd. The other site would have been used to “create a large single site where partners could develop a permanent, purpose-built shelter, a day resource center, pay-to-stay beds and/or low-cost housing,” according to the State Journal.
After a six-month search, in which city officials looked at 15 to 20 properties, the former day care center appealed the most because it could be quickly converted to use as an overnight shelter and offer an array of services.
In the original deal, the city would have invested $3 million and Parisi said Dane County would provide matching funds. The 4111 East Towne Boulevard cost $1.3 million and the adjacent property cost an additional $700,000. The extra $4 million would have been allocated toward renovations and further development.
A resolution to increase the city’s Community Development Division’s 2020 capital budget by the required $3 million in borrowing would have faced approval by the Finance Committee on Oct. 26 and the Common Council on Nov. 17, the State Journal reported.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the city and other partners used the Warner Park Community Recreation Center to house the homeless men. Three churches in the downtown area also offered their basements for refuge as well. The tight quarters, including men sleeping side-by-side on mats, created concerns surrounding social distancing and preventing the spread of the virus and prompted a need for a new facility.
Warner Park can accommodate around 150 men, and the non-profit Porchlight, Inc., which operates the men’s emergency shelter system, helped approximately 170 men in the three church basements before the pandemic, according to city community development director Jim O’Keefe.
“Since 1985, the provision of emergency shelter has relied upon space generously offered by Grace Episcopal Church, with help from St. John’s Lutheran Church and First United Methodist Church,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We owe those congregations and their leadership a huge debt of gratitude, but it is long past time that we develop purpose-built shelter.”
O’Keefe said city officials met Wednesday morning to examine other options.
“There are other properties we will be looking at,” O’Keefe said. “There’s a strong commitment on the part of policymakers to get this done. I’m pretty optimistic we’ll move on and find an alternative.”
Despite Rhodes-Conway’s resolution, the initial phase of the renovation and conversion of the day care center to an interim homeless shelter would not have been completed until 2022.
Since the city cannot use Warner Park as a permanent shelter location, city officials said they will explore short-term options for 2021.