By Doug Hissom Special to Published Jul 13, 2007 at 5:01 AM

The Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese has accepted an offer to sell the Cousins Center to commercial interests who will look first at commercial development of the sprawling complex of buildings and land which is also known as archdiocese HQ, according to sources close to the action. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, however, denies any accepted offer.

"The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has not accepted an offer to sell the Archbishop Cousins Catholic Center," said Kathleen Hohl, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The archdiocese put the 415,000-sq. ft. building and the surrounding 44 acres at 3200 S. Shore Dr. in St. Francis up for sale last year.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese has agreed to a $17 million settlement with 10 people who sued the archdiocese after claims of sexual abuse by priests. The place is also home to the Milwaukee Bucks training facility.

As for the Seminary Woods, which is 37 acres of pristine forest next to the Cousins Center, also owned by the archdiocese, questions abound. A group of preservationists from St. Francis recently found out that they struck out on their three options for raising money to buy and preserve the woods. They also found out that the archdiocese wants about $8 million for that land.

A state land conservation fund dropped an effort to buy the woods after being unable to raise $3 million to $4 million in matching funds. A gamble to use Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District preservation money failed after it was discovered the drainage basin doesn’t qualify. 

A developer proposed last fall a project that includes 24 homes in a horseshoe shape to abut the woods. Finding it sold to other residential or commercial interests could foil his plans quickly. People concerned about preserving the woods viewed that project as an immediate threat.

But now they have to regroup to find someone else to buy the woods and save it. A spokesperson for the archdiocese last fall said the church wants to sell the land only to buyers interested in preserving the space. That doesn’t appear for certain at this time, according to sources. They say the church has indicated that it no longer wants to limit its choices to preservation.

“The City of St. Francis has to step up,” says one source close to the real estate discussions. “We need to get community people concerned.”

The city had applied for a $200,000 Coastal Grant late last year to chip to an offer.

Under the Wisconsin Eye: Some notes from the couch after watching the first day’s coverage of the state Assembly on Wisconsin Eye, the new cable channel devoted to watching our state lawmakers at work (channel 163 on your Time Warner digital dial). The producers had foresight or were lucky enough to go one the air while the Assembly was debating the state budget, because there was certainly enough drama about the Capitol despite everyone knowing that the Republicans were going to pass their version of the budget, since they control the house by a comfortable 52-47 margin.

  • The most common phrases heard all day were either “your side of the aisle” or “the other side of the aisle” or “that side of the aisle,” but from the overhead bird’s eye view of the chambers offered by the “eye,” viewers couldn’t tell who was on which side of the aisle.
  • Assembly members seemed ready for the cameras, reading prepared speeches either from paper copies or right off the screens of their laptop computers. Some ad-lib was allowed, like when Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) was cornered by Tony Staskunas (D-West Allis) about the Republicans’ failure to address health care for the uninsured. “Spoken like a true attorney,” Vukmir quipped, and then went on to not answer the question.
  • Vukmir was in the middle of several rhetorical battles -- first on the issue of the Milwaukee school voucher plan, which the Assembly budget proposes to expand throughout Milwaukee County and Racine County, and then over health care.
  • Jim Ott (R-Mequon) gave his first budget speech ever. The former TV weatherman perhaps hearkened back to his forecasting days in the studio with the phrase “in the future when thing look a little better.” He mostly offered the party-line talking points in his moment of political glory and sat down to applause from the room, prompting Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) to say, “just because there’s applause on your first speech doesn’t mean we agree with you.”
  • Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee), who actually spoke without notes once in awhile, gets the most dramatic speaker award for his high volume of finger-pointing style of oration. His disheveled hair helped solidify the honor.
  • Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) appeared to suffer memory loss at a key point on a tangent that had nothing to do with the budget at hand when he kept referring to the 2006 election results as “2004.” He predicted that the next election will find the Democrats back in control of the Assembly. That whim prompted an unidentified member to leap up and yell “your talking politics,” while Kessler laughed. Apparently you can’t talk politics in the Assembly chambers during budget time.
  • The most pleasant voice proffered from the floor was that of Kim Hixson (D-Whitewater), whose southern drawl eased one into listening to his persuasion. He termed the budget “standing in the schoolhouse door,” when it comes to education funding.

The Consultant’s Life: Former Private Industry Council CEO Gerard Randall is adapting well to his life as a consultant these days. Randall was removed from his post after Mayor Tom Barrett’s office took over the job training functions for Milwaukee County. He was kept on as a consultant for the next six months to the tune of $61,000. Lately though, he’s got the stereotypical consultant’s role down, glad handing his friends in the halls while not really showing up for office work at all. He lost his office space to incoming CEO Don Sykes and maybe they haven’t found a desk for him yet.

His presence could stave off what some insiders say is needed -- a complete audit of Randall’s 9-year tenure at PIC. For starters, it’s posited that a probe should be taken into the hiring of people by using what’s called “carry-over” money, cash from contracts that were not fulfilled and used to hire cronies.

Word is that staffers who raised questions about the practice were let go in favor of those who kept their mouths shut. Meanwhile, Randall’s lieutenant, Dave Wilson, has surprisingly been left out of key staff meetings, leading to suggestions that it might be wise he start to brush off his resume.

And, despite promises that all the financial pressures would change come July 1, no money is yet to be found still for job training or for bus tickets, needed badly for job seekers to get to and fro.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.