Plans being developed for the former Wausau Center Mall site

It’s been just over a year since the Wausau Center Mall closed for good, with demolition soon after.

Now many are wondering where things stand with the planned multi-million dollar redevelopment project.

“We took control of this (WOZ) in partnership with the city, we bought it out on February 4, 2020,” said Dave Eckmann, Director of the Wausau Area Chamber of Commerce and President of the Wausau Opportunity. Zone (WOZ) Inc. “It’s 7.2 acres.”

Today, WOZ is reinventing the city center, hoping to breathe new life into the site.

For Eckmann, the vision is clear.

“We have ownership in terms of infrastructure, the DNR has placed a closure report on it for the site, so it’s clean, and right now we’re just working through a process with a potential developer looking to put an investment significant $40 million here downtown,” he said.

Due to a nondisclosure agreement, this potential developer is unknown to the public, as city officials now navigate a lengthy legal process.

“When we’re in negotiations, we don’t want to put the developer or the city under any obligation or create any public misunderstanding. It’s quiet right now, and it’s almost painful to be quiet, but we’re happy to bring it forward and settle everything before presenting it to the public,” said Liz Brodeck, the city’s economic developer.

Inauguration and redevelopment

The grand opening of the land that once housed the Wausau Center Mall could take place in the coming months.

“Our goal is that we can scratch the ground in the fall, October-November … but there are a lot of things that need to work by then,” Eckmann said. “There will be multi-family housing at market prices for people to live in, young people and families.

The goal of this multi-year project is to attract young professionals and keep people here.

“If you want a thriving downtown you need to have 12-15% of your population living downtown, at the time we did the study on that it was maybe 3%, so that will make a big difference,” said the mayor of Wausau. Katie Rosenberg.

“They need it, all these businesses here need it, the city needs it,” Eckmann said. “If your downtown dies, the city dies, especially in this 21st century talent environment.

What does this mean for taxpayers?

“What we’re looking at right now is anywhere on the low end it would generate about $486,000 in new taxes, on the high end it would be double that, so we’re looking at a huge increase of the tax-base of the area which is really good for everyone, it eases everyone’s burden a bit,” Brodeck said. “If we use TIFF for what is being offered, it wouldn’t take away general pot right now it’s capped at the level it’s currently at and the new increment is going to help fund development.”

With years until the vision can be complete, others worry about the taxpayers’ money pouring into the project as well as the transparency along the way.

“The City of Wausau has its eyes sunk in millions of dollars in grants and sat in front of a demolished area where nothing is happening,” said Tom Kilian Wausau District 3 Alderperson. “There is concern about how public money is being spent.”

“Even if things are slower to reach a point of success, I think it would help if the public knew what was going on, he added. “I would like to see the success that has been promised to us.

The future

Downtown business owners say they are excited about the redevelopment.

Contrell Wraggs is a Wausau native who opened Eboni Fashions on North Third Street in March near the redevelopment site, he says he welcomes the transition.

“We can’t keep staying in the past, because if we keep staying in the past…we’re going to stay there,” Wraggs said. “Instead of taking our hard-earned money and increasing another city’s revenue, why not keep it here.”

Leaders say patience and trust are key in a process like this.

“Generally it’s difficult for people to monitor the government process, especially when it comes to working with these other organizations. It’s slower than anyone would like… It takes a little longer , but I’m excited to see what we’ll see with the Children’s Residence and Imaginarium, right here in downtown Wausau,” Rosenberg said.

Chronology

The project is a five to six year process, a deal with the developer could come this summer.

At this point, discussions about the project will intensify. City leaders say one of their next steps is to tackle the JC Penny Block, which they will discuss at their meeting next week.