Is Bishops Bay Back? Terrence Wall Thinks So...

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By: 
Matt Geiger
Terrence Wall, left, walks on land where Bishops Bay is expected to rise up over the coming decade.

Terrence Wall has a well-known reputation as a fierce competitor and an ambitious capitalist. But sitting in his modest office in downtown Middleton, speaking with earnest enthusiasm in a soft-spoken voice, there is a hint of dreamy, boyish sentiment in the way he talks about Bishops Bay, the uber-development that is once again under his control.

Surrounded by a noticeably youthful staff, the veteran developer pauses for a moment when asked if it is gratifying to have his hands back in the sprawling, multi-use project’s nuts and bolts.

“Yes,” he acknowledges, but not for the reason one might suspect.

“It’s not about wanting to be in charge,” Wall states. “It’s about once again having the ability to execute on the vision and quality of the development. It’s about re-establishing credibility with builders and realtors.”

Both his critics and his supporters agree, Wall simply doesn’t do small.

Most first-time political candidates run for a local school board or city council seat. Wall’s initial foray into politics was a campaign for the United States Senate.

And while most developers are content to build little clusters of housing or office buildings, Bishops Bay is so big and eclectic that he likes to call it “a community within a community.”

That development, which is now free from the auspices of T. Wall Properties and operating as its own corporation, encompasses 750 acres.

Located partially in the City of Middleton, partially in the Town of Westport, and entirely within the Waunakee Area School District, it is now entering its second phase as constructions crews get to work building new single-family homes in the “Back Nine” neighborhood bordering an already existing golf course. When the 10-year development plan is complete, says Wall, those homes will be part of a thriving community including a church, a school, housing for nearly every demographic, an organic CSA farm and parks and trails galore.

“I like to say the only things you can’t do at Bishops Bay are be born and be buried,” he says. “Everything in between, you can do.”

The master plan has already received approval from city leaders, but there are still obstacles to overcome. Each new phase will require the city to approve its own PLAT, for example.

And serious questions remain about the cost and extent of the regional infrastructure the development will require. Most important among those questions is how much of the tab Wall will pick up, and if the City of Middleton will pitch in.

But Wall says the real life Bishops Bay will look strikingly similar to the vision he first presented, half a decade ago, to the Middleton City Council. It’s a plan that won the National Association of Home Builders Gold award.

Bishops Bay was originally pursued by T. Wall Properties, a company run by Wall for years before the board, including influential New York-based investors, took the business in a different direction and removed Wall from his position as president.

Wall regrouped, however, and is now back in charge of Bishops Bay, which operates today as a stand-alone company. On September 16 of 2013, through a mutual agreement the ownership of The Community of Bishops Bay was distributed out from T. Wall Properties L.L.C. to its primary shareholders, who formed a new independent company managed by Wall.

Bishops Bay is now supported by local investors and a six-person governing board. According to Wall and his supporters, that means it’s back on track.

“He’s someone we feel comfortable dealing with,” comments Middleton Mayor Kurt Sonnentag. “He has always delivered on what he promised, and he’s someone I trust.”

“The vision hasn’t changed,” Wall says of Bishops Bay. “It’s like a small town that will grow up over a 10-year period. A place where people can live, shop and play.”

“And the fact that it’s back under local control is huge, because it’s our reputations at stake,” he says.

Located between highways Q and M on the north side of Lake Mendota, the finished development would contain seven distinct neighborhoods that include 1,300 single-family home lots and 1,600 multi-family units.  

The proposal incorporates an elementary school, numerous parks, a place of worship, a lake, woods, and in the town center and various shops.

The community may house up to 6,000 residents over the next ten years, according to Wall. The first phase included 39 home sites and a few multi-family development sites.   

Phase 2 includes 45 single-family lots including three home types: village, the smallest; manor, which are larger; and golf, which are the most expansive and expensive.

Wall promises the finished product will bring people together.

“Subdivisions are usually very demographically similar,” he says. “They are places where people go to sleep, and these neighborhoods go through down periods, when all those people age and move on, before they re-gentrify. This is different because it will have a broad range of residents.”

Some concessions, such as a small sliver of the existing Bishops Bay Golf Course that will no longer be developed, and total acreage dropping from 780 to 750, have occurred.

“We had a lot of challenges to overcome,” Wall states. “But we’re back on the course we originally set.”

Wall predicts that in the coming years, “three or four” phases could be under construction simultaneously.

The town center, which he says will evolve for years to come, will break ground in 2015 or 2016, according to Wall.

“We talk about this idea of a community growing organically,” he says. “The town center will grow a little bit each year. We wanted it eclectic.”

Wall grew up in Maple Bluff. He says he remembers summer days during his childhood when a diverse range of people would mingle for community events.

“That’s what I’m trying to duplicate here,” he explains.

 As usual, his goals are anything but modest.

 “This will stand the test of time,” says Wall. “This will be around for 500 years.”

 

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