Developer dumped, but what lies ahead for empty school building?

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is looking for a new developer for the empty Malcolm X Academy. This is the building a private school offered to buy -- and MPS rejected for plans of its own.

State Senator Alberta Darling has been a vocal supporter of MPS selling the empty Malcolm X Academy to St. Marcus Academy. It wanted to expand its highly touted program. Instead, MPS partnered with private developer, 2760 Holdings.

"Well, it would have been a combination of retail and office and housing and I don't know that there was a market demand for that kind of a project," said Darling.

MPS Chief of Staff Erbert Johnson says the project is not dead -- it's just shedding the developer.

"Now we're gonna lead it and hire some other professionals to kind of assist us in the process," said Johnson.

The decision to dissolve the partnership came after a mass letter for sponsorship was sent out for an upcoming conference in the city. Johnson showed FOX6 News what appeared to be a hand-written response from Dennis Klein, a partner of 2760 Holdings. It said quote, "I will sponsor at Michigan level when I get letter of intent and/or lease executed on Malcolm X. This is a contingent pledge. D."

A "Michigan level" sponsorship was $15,000.

"It was not deemed to be illegal as far as we know," said Johnson. "We basically again turned it over to our attorney, which is the city attorney -- and from there we decided to sever the relationship."

Johnson said the plan is to move forward with a middle school for 400 to 600 students.

"The school as an anchor was the most important piece because a high-performing school would then be something that would attract housing; something that would attract retail," said Johnson.

While Johnson says the plan was in the making years ago, Darling has her own opinion.

"It was put together to prevent St. Marcus from being about to buy the facility," said Darling.

FOX6 News left a voicemail for Dennis Klein for comment. So far, he has not returned our calls.

At this point, MPS is in the process of purchasing the work product from 2760 Holdings -- so the project can move forward. It's an estimated cost of about $500,000 -- although the developer has requested more.

Dr. Michael Bonds, president of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, issued the following regarding the erroneous statement issued today by State Senator Alberta Darling and State Representative Joe Sanfelippo regarding the district's plans to continue the development of the former Malcolm X Academy building:

"From the beginning of this process, Senator Darling and Representative Sanfelippo have clearly misunderstood this effort to bring a high-performing International Baccalaureate school to the Malcolm X neighborhood. Their statement today only further serves to illustrate that fact.

There is nothing inappropriate about the decision made by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors to move forward with this project without the developer we initially identified. What was most critical to this Board is that the project move forward.

It is unfortunate that Senator Darling and Representative Sanfelippo have characterized this effort as phony, crooked and obscene. In fact, the Board took the appropriate steps to continue the project itself and keep our promise to the neighborhood to deliver what it asked for:  a high-performing school.

I have asked the Office of the City Attorney to provide legal options with respect to the inflammatory and false allegations by Darling and Sanfelippo against the district, alleging corruption."