By Jason Arndt
When Bear Real Estate Group bought the Franciscan Friary property along Browns Lake Drive, city officials were under the impression the sprawling parcel of land would accommodate a large-scale housing development, which has been one of the key needs under Burlington’s Vision 2040 plan.
Bear Real Estate Group, which first approached the city more than a year ago, initially looked to transform the property into 182 homes ranging from single-family units to affordable and senior housing on more than 140 acres.
However, Bear Real Estate Group officials decided to abandon the project, recently selling the property to a Chicago-based Catholic group called The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.
The Institute of Christ the King, according to an announcement made last month, plans to use the sprawling compound consisting of more than 100 acres to serve as the site of youth camps and retreats.
It will be known as Sacred Heart Retreat Center.
While Bear Real Estate Group officials declined to comment, and did not return emails or phone calls, Burlington officials said they do not have any control over private transactions.
Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty acknowledged housing is a key need for the city, however, noting the community still has another large-scale development in the works near the Burlington bypass.
Bear Real Estate Group, as well as Faust Investments, have presented two separate plans that could bring another 1,000 residents to the city.
“As you can you see utilities are being expanded down Highway 83,” Hefty said.
As for the former friary property, Hefty said she and other city officials do not have authority over private sales, such as the Bear Real Estate deal with Christ the King from Chicago.
Hefty, however, said she and City Administrator Carina Walters have known for years of the Friary’s plans to sell the property.
“Carina and myself met with representatives of the friary approximately four to five years ago telling us they had to sell because of financial issues.”
Wisconsin-based Franciscan Friary of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary Province concurred with Hefty in a statement issued in late June.
Through a spokesperson, the former friary complex said it has served as a prominent venue for its institution for nearly a century, but have since experienced diminished use.
“With its use diminished over the years, the 140-acre property was no longer financially sustainable. The Province made the difficult, but practical, decision to sell all but 14 acres that house its Queen of Peace Friary and grounds, which will remain as the retirement facility for its friars,” the spokesperson stated.
As for the statutes, Bear Real Estate Group pledged it would retain the prominent artifacts repeatedly to city officials and allow the friars to remain on the property.
“All statues and religious artifacts were moved to the friary and province’s ground, and the Franciscans will continue to serve the community as they have for decades,” the friary wrote in a statement.
See the July 6 print edition of the Standard Press for the full story.