As we talk about new businesses in Monona, we end up with several questions about the future of the old Nichols School building on the corner of Monona and Nichols/Pflaum. The building is currently being used by the school district as offices.
In the recent budget dealings, numerous people have brought up Nichols School as a potential financial windfall for the district – saying we could rent or even sell the property to help alleviate our budget shortfall.
Is Nichols a potential bag of money for the district?
The answer, at least right now, is probably no.
If you want to rent the school (and there were some reports that Madison called about renting), you have to do numerous things to get the school up to code. Things that cost money. You have all new issues with insurance – something that costs money. And most importantly, Nichols can really only do one thing – be a school – meaning only a school district would want to rent it. You need someone with the money to do such a thing, someone who needs more space, and someone close enough to make it worth everyone’s efforts. Pretty much the only entity that fits the latter bill is Madison – but they aren’t exactly rolling in cash. And even if you do manage to get a tenant – it’s unlikely the building would be a cash cow. Any revenues would likely be minimal. Not that the district should turn down any extra revenue – even small amounts – but it’s not going to be a savior in these times.
The second option is to sell the building. This is an interesting option, but there are numerous obstacles to this.
The early obstacles would be the community, the district and the building itself. To even get the district to put the land and building up for sale would require some work, with approval from the district as well as Monona. I don’t know how this land is zoned, but it would probably require a change from the city. And that’s not something that would be that simple. If a school is going to be razed, the community (both those living around the area as well as the entire city), would want something of value to be brought back in. That’s not always that easy of a task. To get everyone on the same page is difficult.
And speaking of razing the school, to tear down Nichols would cost a lot of money – something potential owners are well aware of. And believe me, no one is going to want to keep the building. As we said above, it’s only fit for being a school. An new development will likely be done from the ground up.
Your next obstacle is finding buyers. Five years ago you probably would have had numerous developers show up with plans for condos and shops – but not now. Those days are gone. No one is going to sink millions into a condo development. And to be honest, banks aren’t giving out money for such places anyhow.
So who would build at the current site? You’d need a deep pockets business who could afford tearing down the current structure, and then build their new facility. Potential customers could be health care facilities, insurance companies, or a business that needs a large tract of land (an example could be the Princeton Club, who are looking to build a smaller facility at the corner of Monona Dr. and Broadway).
UW Health is proposing a new facility on Broadway, and is an example of a health care organization that would have the money and need. But the Broadway location is going to cost less and offer easier access to their patients – so it doesn’t work.
The final obstacle is the economy. What the district wants for selling the land is probably not something they will get. They may feel it’s best to wait out the bad times, hold the land for a few more years, and hope new opportunities arise.
But for for now, there’s not enough potential buyers. The condo development market is in the tank. The cost of the land and tearing down Nichols is prohibitive to most businesses. So unless someone like a UW Health steps out of the shadows, it’s unlikely that Nichols will be sold anytime soon. The district will hold on to the location and look to sell when the economy recovers.