The Monona City Council heard information Monday night about a potential memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and local non-profit group Friends of San Damiano (FOSD).

Brought to the council by Monona Mayor Mary O’Connor, the contract, if approved by the city council, would authorize the city and FOSD to form an ad-hoc committee that will oversee a ‘public visioning and master planning process’ for the San Damiano building, which the city is set to take ownership of June 1.

Made up of 10 individuals, the ad-hoc committee would be composed of four city-appointed representatives, four FOSD-appointed representatives, O’Connor, and FOSD President Andrew Kitslaar.

Kitslaar said one of the first orders of business for the committee would be to hire a professional consultant to guide the city in determining how it will utilize the property after the city closes on the purchase next month. The committee would recommend a consultant to the city council, at which point the council would take a vote on whether or not to make a hire.

Discussions on what will become of the more than 100-year-old home and the 10-acre plot of land it sits on have been ongoing for more than a year now.

According to Kitslaar, the committee formation is “a large step forward,” and he’s hopeful it will answer some unresolved questions from taxpayers, such as what direction the city will go with the property and how much money will need to be raised to fulfill that.

“I think the committee will answer a lot of questions for the general public, as far as our purpose and what we’re doing to try to help alleviate the tax burden for the project,” Kitslaar said.

Once the committee is formed and members have narrowed down a consultant, a series of public input opportunities are set to happen as early as fall of 2021, at which point the city could end or renew the MOU.

“Right now, this is set up to exist at least through the period of the master planning process, which we anticipate will begin sometime in the fall or early next year… at which point we could reconsider and do a different agreement or we could extend this agreement, but I think the idea is that we’ll wait and see how things work out,” said O’Connor.

Getting residents onto the San Damiano property to experience it for themselves will be a top priority for the group before making a final decision on what will happen with the property, Kitslaar said.

“I know there’s been questions surrounding why the city or FOSD haven’t reached out to people about what their ideas are for the property, but having grown up in Monona and not having stepped foot on the property until several months ago, it’s a completely different experience than what you see when you just drive past on Monona Drive,” he said.

“The public visioning will be a long process with the an outside consultant helping to really bring in the perspective of Monona residents, area residents, and county residents on what they envision for [San Damiano], and steer us in the right direction on what will ultimately be implemented on the property and what we’ll need to fundraise to get there,” Kitslaar went on to say.

FOSD was formed last July to aid the city in raising private funds to secure the purchase and pay for subsequent ongoing maintenance of the former friary. That same month, a feasibility report was done by David Allen of Development for Conservation, which tested the feasibility of raising a maximum of $12 million privately to protect the property.

Two months later, the city council gave approval for the city to make the $8.6 million purchase, despite a finding in the feasibility report that, “it will be challenging to raise $1.5 million and perhaps as much as $2 million in pledge payments [for the project] in the next three to five years.”

Yet, Kitslaar described the findings as “unsurprising,” saying that fundraising is difficult for any project this size, and the $12 million figure used in the feasibility report was merely a rough estimate prior to settling on the final selling price of $8.6 million.

Also at Monday night’s city council meeting, council members gave official approval for the issuance of $8.6 million in general obligation notes to fund the purchase ahead of the June 1 closing.

Under state law, the city would normally need to pay back the sum over a period of 20 years, though under an approved five-year bond anticipation note, the city will have an extra five years to pay it off.

In 2022, the city is set to make a $2 million payment on the bond, which will come from a funding award from Dane County.

As far as a timeline for the committee formation and a snapshot of its potential makeup, Kitslaar said he hopes members will be selected within the next few months. He said he encourages Ho-Chunk representation on the committee, as San Damiano sits on possible Native American burial grounds.

O’Connor would serve on the committee in an ex officio capacity, meaning she will only be authorized to vote in the event of a tie. Kitslaar would also be serving ex officio, though he will not reserve the right to vote, even in a tie.

Despite some public disagreement on the affordability of the San Damiano purchase, both O’Connor and Kitslaar have doubled down on their support for the project.

“I’m a strong believer that this is the right thing to do and this is the right side of history,” said Kitslaar. “I look at this as a positive, as being on the right side of history in terms of trying to save this property.”

Further discussion on the MOU will be taken up at the council’s May 17 meeting, though in the meantime, Kitslaar is encouraging anyone with general questions or wanting to get involved with the project to contact him at info@sandamianomonona.org.

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