Williams Bay old elementary school building

Located at 139 Congress St., the old Williams Bay Elementary School opened in 1916, but the 80,000-square-foot building has not been used as a school for about three years. (Photo by Scott Williams/Regional News)

WILLIAMS BAY — The old Williams Bay Elementary School stands empty and quiet.

Across the street, neighbor Rich Thomas is happy.

Thomas and other neighbors have successfully blocked — at least for now — a proposal to convert the old school into what neighbors had interpreted as a hotel.

Private developers had proposed renovating the building at 139 Congress St. as a retreat and wellness center with overnight accommodations for about 30 guests.

Faced with neighborhood opposition, the developers have declared their project in a holding pattern.

“Nothing going on with it,” developer Mason Awtry said. “No project. No current plans.”

Thomas said he and other neighbors ultimately would like to see something done with the old school, which has been vacant for about three years.

For now, however, Thomas said he is delighted to hear that the hotel-like concept is being shelved.

“I’m very happy,” he said.

Surrounded by homes in a residential area near downtown Williams Bay, the 100-year-old school has been vacant since a new school was built across town in 2017.

Awtry has joined with Lake Geneva partner Bethany Souza in acquiring the property and preparing a redevelopment plan through a company called MBC Center LLC. The company is paying about $2,000 a year in property taxes on the old school.

The developers last year presented village officials with a proposal to transform the 80,000-square-foot building into a retreat for artists, with classrooms for wellness clinics, writing workshops and leadership seminars.

The building’s exterior would be repainted in white and green, and the campus would be enclosed by a wrought-iron fence.

Opposition emerged when neighbors grew uneasy about including overnight accommodations for visitors to the new center. Neighbors interpreted that as a plan for operating a hotel in what is otherwise largely a residential neighborhood.

Members of the village plan commission voiced sympathy for the neighbors, and the developers retreated.

Village Administrator Jim Weiss said officials have heard nothing from the school developers in recent months.

“They were going to do some additional homework,” Weiss said. “And they never came back.”

Souza said the property is not for sale, although she said the project is in a holding pattern.

Souza has recently signed on as proprietor of the Baker House, a Lake Geneva hotel/restaurant that changed hands in April. The new owner of the Baker House is Roland Wolfe, who also runs the Carefree Boat Club.

Souza said she has assumed a “minority role” on the Williams Bay school project, and she waiting for her partners to decide what to do next with the building.

“I am on to another project I can do something with,” she said, referring to the Baker House. If Williams Bay neighbors had not opposed the school redevelopment, she added, “Things would’ve been a lot different.”

Awtry, who communicated by email, declined to say whether other plans are in the works for the old Williams Bay elementary school.

Thomas said he and other neighbors would welcome either transforming the school site into a park or building new homes there.

He voiced relief that MBC Center LLC is not moving forward with the retreat/wellness center.

“I think they realized there were enough people that were going to try to stop what they were doing,” he said.

Weiss said village leaders remain eager for movement on the former elementary school. He said the village, however, has not had any communication with the developers.

“They know the village wants to see something happen,” he said. “It’s on them.”