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City resurrects downtown theater talks

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By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — City leaders on Thursday breathed new life into hopes for a downtown Wausau theater complex, more than a year after the project was first brought to the table.

Members of the city’s economic development committee voted this week to hold off on issuing a new request for proposals to develop the former Sears space at Wausau Center mall to allow negotiations for a theater to continue.

The move comes six weeks after a development deal with Micon Cinemas officially fell apart. Micon, a family-owned theater company with three theaters in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, had originally planned a 10-screen complex for the building, investing roughly $10 million into the project. Wausau bought the Sears building last year for $650,000.

In early October, Mayor Rob Mielke announced in a news release that the theater plan was dead, Micon and mall owners could not reach an agreement on the project, which was meant to help revive the struggling mall.

Council President Lisa Rasmussen on Thursday told committee members she was stunned that the deal didn’t come together.

“The mall needed help last year,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said if the structure of the plan, including city’s financial commitment to the project, changes in the process, it will be important to see if public support for the project also changes.

The former plan, proposed in October 2016 and approved in January by an 8-3 margin, called for the city to transfer the property to Micon Cinemas and included a $1 million forgivable loan. The deal was contingent on Micon adding jobs and building a complex worth $6 million.

“The city doesn’t want to own the Sears building and keep it off the tax rolls any longer than we need to, but we also need to make sure we’re seeing the best deal possible for taxpayers,” Rasmussen said at the meeting.

The committee is expected to hear an update at its next scheduled meeting.

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