By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — City leaders are asking the owners of a key riverfront development to present an updated plan for artistic murals on the exterior walls of the building.

Wausau on Water, 1300 River Drive, was the first major development in the city’s massive riverfront transformation. The entertainment center opened in December 2016.

During the planning process, co-owner Bill Greenwood agreed to place artistic murals on the side of the building to help soften its appearance, according to city documents.

So far, no murals have materialized. City leaders are vowing to hold Greenwood to his promise to add the murals, in accordance with the developer agreement. The project was to be completed on Jan. 15, 2017.

Council member Romey Wagner, who sits on the economic development committee, said at the Jan. 18 meeting that the murals were meant to be a focal point of the facility and played an integral role in the development’s approval.

“If I wasn’t convinced that this was going to be a mural generated kind of artistic building I wouldn’t have voted for a metal building down there,” Wagner said. “We trusted and we got an agreement that we need to hold them to.”

During the meeting, Council President Lisa Rasmussen agreed with Wagner, saying that the planned murals were part of what “sold” the project to her as a council member in 2015.

“There’s a contractual obligation they’ve promised and if they want to deliver less than what we expected, then they need not be too surprised if we ask for some of our money back or we ask for something in return,” Rasmussen said at the meeting. “That’s not an accurate delivery on the promise.”

The committee took no action at the meeting except to direct city staff to continue working with WOW to present an updated plan in the near future.

Business leaders at WOW declined to comment for this story.

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8 replies on “Debate continues on WOW murals”

  1. I would be interested in more context in this story. How much money did the City of Wausau give WoW? When did WoW say it would have murals on the exterior of the building?

    I would also posit this question as well. Why is this coming up now? WoW is clearly becoming a successful and focal point/destination place. I am there at least 2 times a month. The last time there were 4 out of town youth hockey teams there having dinner. They were clearly in town for a tournament.

    In the summer months people actually do the whole paddle up thing, walk up while on the trail, etc.

    The quote from Wagner is absurd at best, and sad at worst. He voted for this large scale business based SOLELY ON MURALS? Seriously. That was his litmus test?

    Also, the City took no action. So, I am also left wondering, again, the context of why this is a story.

    1. Dino: I don’t know precisely how much money they received from the city, in part because their development agreement has been amended several times. Because of that, I am hesitant to include that figure, but will after I confirm that with the city. This has been on an agenda several times in the past two months and was the subject of a fair amount of discussion at the last city council meeting. That alone, in my opinion, gives this merit as a story (though not a huge one.)
      You could look at it this way, though: When the city enters into a development agreement, there is always taxpayer concern over whether the promises made in that agreement are met (on both ends.) We’ve done stories about this before. Are the jobs requirements being met? Is the projected increase in tax base being met? Does the building meet the specifications agreed to in the agreement? And if the answer is no, what is the city doing, besides talking about the problem, to solve it? If you watch the video from the meeting, it sounds like the ED committee initially was just going to recommend that WOW work with a proposed arts commission, when and if that commission is ever formed (!!). But a couple of the committee members said – wait a minute….that’s not enough. So they directed Chris Schock to continue working with WOW to ensure these murals happen as planned.
      Today, the issue is murals. But what if the issue was a building that was worth much less than anticipated, or a business that generated fewer jobs than anticipated? There should be solid steps in place that the city takes to ensure the development agreement is either fully met or is amended in an approved way, no matter what the issue. There are other developer agreements with benchmarks that have not been met as well. Are those developers being held accountable? Or, does the city have a plan to work with the developer when plans hit a snag, or the agreement needs to change?
      As a side note: this isn’t meant to negatively portray WOW as a business. That place is hopping. And the ED committee did acknowledge that WOW is absolutely a success. Every time I’ve been there it’s been busy. I don’t know that I agree with you about the whole paddle up thing, because that section of the river is not exactly popular for boating and kayaking. You can’t get there from Lake Wausau because of the dam, so access is limited to everything north of that, which leaves out the vast majority of water traffic in the area. As a kayaker myself, I never travel that part of the river and won’t. But with the bike/ped path and the gorgeous setting of the riverfront, this is a great spot.

  2. are these developer agreements public documents? would we be able to find them on the city website?

    1. I think you know the answer to this, but yes, they are public documents. They’re not posted in economic development, but you can search for them in the archives of the city council minutes. The original document is here: http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Portals/0/Departments/Council/Archives/Standing%20Committees/Economic%20Development%20Committee/2015/ECON_20150602_Packet.pdf
      According to the initial agreement, the city granted a $521,000 loan, approved a $54,000 grant and donated a building. The land is owned by the city and WOW agreed to lease the property for $1,000 per month. The economic development committee retains “full and final approval” on all exterior elements.
      A few months later, it looks as though the city upped its assistance when the project ran into significant construction problems. The city was asked to approve an additional $271,000 grant for foundation work and an additional $354,000 in loan funds. You can see that here: http://www.ci.wausau.wi.us/Portals/0/Departments/Council/Archives/Standing%20Committees/Finance%20Committee/2015/FINC_20150811_Packet.pdf
      In all, that amounts to a $325,000 grant for foundation and landscaping work and an $875,000 loan This is all TIF financed.

      1. I might have known the answer Shereen, but I might not have. Its a bit of a mystery what is available to the public on the City website sometimes.

        But, thank you for finding it.

  3. I’m glad WOW is doing well. With all the taxpayer money in this project, I would hope it does well. and YES, TIF money IS taxpayer money contrary to how some council members would like to portray TIF money as FREE money!! However, no matter if murals are put on that building or not, it is still a warehouse style building not fitting for the amount of high end detailed constructed on the river front. SAD!!
    Joanne Leonard

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