Chad Zeznanskiâ€™s porch overlooks a vacant lot where the First Baptist Church of Oconomowoc and a house stood until April 2, 2008.
Thatâ€™s the day an explosion — caused when workers for Luxemburg-based Dorner Inc. ruptured a gas line — blew up the church and two nearby houses.
Zeznanski quipped that his house gets more sunlight now that the buildings are gone. On a more serious note, he is interested in redeveloping the area.
Along with business partner Jim Hodson, Zeznanski, a developer, is securing the rights to buy a row of houses along Wisconsin Avenue so the land can be redeveloped into storefronts and condos.
Zeznanski said he started working on the development before last yearâ€™s accident. Back then, First Baptist wasnâ€™t interested in selling its corner property. Now that the church is gone, thereâ€™s a better chance of the location near Oconomowocâ€™s lakefront and downtown being redeveloped, he said.
â€œI think for any developer — if it was us or anybody — you want the corner site,â€ Zeznanski said. â€œThe church wouldnâ€™t have sold and wouldnâ€™t have moved.â€
The First Baptist congregation doesnâ€™t have plans for the property, but it is in no hurry to make a decision, said the Rev. Sam Brink, a transition pastor that took over at First Baptist a year and a half ago when the previous pastor had health problems.
The congregation used insurance money from its destroyed church building to buy the former Ixonia Town Hall. The new location is roughly six miles from the old church in Oconomowoc.
â€œWe just did makeshift things â€” a table with a cloth on it to start with,â€ Brink said of creating a new gathering place in the old town hall location.
â€œItâ€™s nothing like this,â€ he said while standing the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Worthington Street where First Baptist Church once stood. â€œItâ€™s an old town hall, but it has a big meeting space.â€
Although the town hall is not the same as a historic church with stained glass and a pipe organ, Brink said the congregation is comfortable in Ixonia.
First Baptist still has money left over from its insurance to pay for a new project, he said, and church members are kicking around a few ideas. They include rebuilding on the original site, building an addition onto the Ixonia location or buying land and starting fresh.
â€œItâ€™s one of those things,â€ Brink said. â€œWord is getting out to our members that people are interested, and the city might have some interest, but nothing formal.â€
Tanya Toepfer has been a member of First Baptist since she was born and was married in the church. She said she isnâ€™t backing any particular plan for the churchâ€™s future, but she wouldnâ€™t have a problem with the former church site being redeveloped.
â€œItâ€™s really hard to tell where we are going right now,â€ she said. â€œWe are at peace where we are and weâ€™re just kind of kicking around a lot of ideas.â€
Zeznanski said he doesnâ€™t expect anything to happen to the property for a few years because the economy is putting development plans, including his, on hold.
An outline of rocks with one or two of the churchâ€™s red bricks shows where the buildingâ€™s walls once stood. Gesturing at the lines in the grass, Brink said it would be difficult to rebuild the church because modern setback laws would require the walls to be much farther back from the sidewalk than they were originally.
Toepfer said she didnâ€™t have any hard feelings toward Dorner over the church explosion. She said the explosion actually drew her and her husband, Jack, back to the congregation after they considered joining another church.
â€œIt was a good thing,â€ she said. â€œIt was something that the Lord allowed to happen because thereâ€™s going to be constant good things coming out of it.â€