By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — During a media roundtable discussion Thursday, Wausau’s mayor said he is confident the city will move forward with developing the east riverfront land without the current development team.

But when asked by Dist. 11 Alderman Dennis Smith whether city officials could say with certainty that taxpayers would not foot the bill for roughly $3 million in liens filed against the project, neither Mayor Rob Mielke nor Economic Development Director Chris Schock had a clear answer.

“The city already approved funding toward this project,” Schock replied, in answer to Smith’s question. If you want to say it’s paying for liens or for other parts of this project, that’s what you’ll decide (as a city council member).”

The city council in 2015 approved about $2.25 million in loans for phase one of the project and $500,000 in grants for the building foundations, all of which would come from a special tax district. Since then, the project has undergone a variety of changes in financial and development partners and has been mired in financial and legal snags. To date, the city has funded $372,462 toward the project as part of a pre-development loan, according to Finance Director Maryanne Groat. That money has not been repaid.

On Tuesday, members of the economic development committee recommended terminating the current development and ground lease agreements with Barker Financial, LLC, of Iowa, an entity that Schock described as having a “common thread” with Mike Frantz. Frantz has been the public face of the project since the council first awarded the project to Frantz Community Investors, LLC, which has since dissolved. The full city council will consider the terminations during the group’s Sept. 11 meeting.

When asked whether there was any chance the city would continue working with Frantz on the development, Mielke answered: “I’ll be very candid. No.”

The liens continue to be a stumbling block as the city seeks to move forward to develop the roughly 16-acre parcel on the city’s east riverfront. The Riverlife Villages portion of the project generated significant enthusiasm in the community, but stalled when financial roadblocks halted construction in early spring.

Schock said the city owns the architectural designs for the project, though a future developer could opt to move forward with a new plan altogether. In August, city officials received three letters of interest for the east riverfront development, two of which are from developers interested in taking over the current Riverlife Villages Phase I project.

The first letter, presented by Gorman & Company of Oregon, Wis., asks the city to transfer the two current building sites to the purchase price of $1. Under the terms of the proposal, Gorman would not assume liability for the $2.7 million lien for foundation work but would require the city of Wausau, Barker Financial and the Samuels Group to come to a collective agreement on the existing debt.

Gorman proposes to continue building the 52-unit apartment building as designed but would look further into the viability of the retail tenants “supposedly lined up for the intended mixed-use commercial building,” according to the letter of intent signed by Ted Matkom, Gorman’s Wisconsin market president. If retail tenants are not secured, Gorman would consider converting the mixed used building into apartments within the established foundation footprints.

On Thursday, Schock said the city is not aware whether any current retail tenants secured are already renting space at other Wausau locations or are being drawn in from other areas.

“That’s not something we would know,” Schock said.

The second proposal from Mitch Viegut and Ohde Construction, does not include specific details about their proposed takeover of the project but instead asks Schock to add their names to the list of potential developers for the project. Viegut is a Wausau real estate broker and contractor and Ohde Construction is a general contractor with offices in Wausau and Daytona Beach, Fla.

A third proposal, submitted by Dave Johnson of Wausau, relates to property adjacent to the current development site.

Johnson seeks to construct 17 high end condos located on a city-owned parcel south of Fulton Street along the Wisconsin River. The proposal calls for an approximately 39,000-square-foot building containing 23 units ranging in size from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet of space. The cost of the building is estimated at $9.75 million, and would generate about $260,000 in annual tax revenue.

City staff will ask all three potential developers to flesh out their plans and present them to the economic development committee for evaluation next month.

Schock said city officials are not having conversations with other developers about the area but are sticking with the city’s process for requesting proposals. Other interested parties could contact the city if they have an interest in other areas of the land along the riverfront slated for development, Schock said.

Mielke, during Thursday’s roundtable discussion, said he is confident the city has acted appropriately during the process, providing numerous updates to the public along the way.

“There are great and positive things happening,” Mielke said.

24 replies on “Wausau mayor vows to move forward on Riverlife project”

  1. Does he want a cookie? Being a lazy schlub and sitting on their hands is what put wausau taxpayers in this mess in the first place. Maybe do the job right the first time.

  2. Seems the City of Wausau Mayor and Economic Development Director Schock have little to NO regard for the taxpayers of this City. When asked a perfectly legitimate question by Council member Smith, Chris Schock makes an “off the cuff” remark the council has already approved funding for this project (don;t believe it was to pay off liens) and if you want to say it’s paying for liens or for other parts of this project, that’s what you’ll decide.” Mr. Schock’s arrogance is amazing. Does he and the council understand their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers in this community? Doesn’t sound like it to me. My taxes should not be paying for irresponsible decisions by this council and the administration of the city. Mr. Smith and Ms. McElhaney seem to be the only two members of the council that understand what is going on. As to all the awards, those awards should be given when a project is completed, not when local administration is scrambling to try to figure out what they are doing and running up more bills to be incurred by taxpayers. Very discouraging.

    1. if i remember correctly..years go that clown mayor tipple fumbled the TIF money for thomas st. construction. He didn’t follow the procedures on purchasing/ offering the home owners money for their houses. it was was quite a bit of money from what i remember (over a million?). Point being is.. how hard is it to have in house lawyers to make sure everything is on the up and up. And if we do have those lawyers in house they are terrible at advising.

    2. Well said, Joanne. Pretty much my sentiments exactly, minus quite a few colorful words. 😉
      This is FAR beyond incompetence. It’s very clear this is blatant and narcissistic malfeasance. What an absolute freaking clown show.

    3. Seems the City of Wausau Mayor and Economic Development Director Schock have little to NO regard for the taxpayers of this City. – Joanne Leonard
      Based on what metrics?

      Mr. Schock’s arrogance is amazing. Compared to yours?
      I know that this is meant as a slam, but to be arrogant means having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities: so when he said it would be up to the council, he was being rather clear… the council makes the decisions.

      Does he and the council understand their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers in this community?
      Yes they do, and when parts of this deal went south, they hung in there and followed the law, they still have legal and business options… can’t just change history!

      As to all the awards are recognition of a good venture, more awards can be given when a project is completed.

      Yes, the local administration is scrambling to try to figure out what they are doing to complete the project. Very encouraging.

  3. Dennis Smith asked a direct question, and I think this is a half answer..

    ““The city already approved funding toward this project,” Schock replied, in answer to Smith’s question. If you want to say it’s paying for liens or for other parts of this project, that’s what you’ll decide (as a city council member).””

    Liens are litigated in court. So, while the question might not have been specific enough for Mr. Schock, this answer is incredibly dismissive. The City, one way or another, could pay for the liens. Where those dollars come from, clearly the dodge move, is in fact TRULY up to the City Council.

    What Dennis Smith clearly was asking was, “Are we going to have to pay for these liens?”

    Poor work.

  4. “… neither Mayor Rob Mielke nor Economic Development Director Chris Schock had a clear answer.” Both have been that way on all wasteful projects (Sears?). The city should stay out of being developers. The city’s 95% cares less of that dumpy location or projects. Building playgrounds under bridges, Vegas docks and bridges that go nowhere. Liquidate all the land and stick your “ had no clear answer” noses in dealing with the rest of the city. The only people pushing for this garbage are the same people (downtown clique) that want to profit from the projects. Enough is enough!

  5. This news conference was nothing short of absurd. The arrogance of Schock is astounding. The Mayor should terminate him immediately, then he should strongly consider resigning, himself.

    1. The very first order of business with regard to Riverlife should be to terminate Mr. Schock. He shows a blatant disregard for the value of taxpayers money. Second order of business is for the all of the City Council members, not just Dennis Smith and Ms. McElhaney, to understand the taxpayers are “NOT” their money tree in the backyard. The taxpayers job is not to bailout incompetent bureaucrats time after time after time. I have ZERO confidence in the leadership in Wausau. Time for a shake-up!

      1. I agree Barb, the problem I see is who would want to run for mayor or the council positions considering the mess this city in. We definitely need more people like Mr. Smith and Ms. McElhaney on the council.

  6. I am no supporter of the Mayor or Mr Schock but I feel some of you are being much to hard on Mr Schock. The person who deserves some criticism is the Alderman Dennis Smith. His question was definitely a setup question as he knew that Schock or the Mayor could not answer the question at this time. If Schock had said NO he would be held to that answer no matter develops. If the answer is YES – the impeachment process would have started.
    The question was a political question posed to box someone in a corner and, to Mr Schock’s credit, he did not bite. Maybe Mr Smith is starting his mayoral campaign.
    Let the process play out.

    1. Good comment sir.
      Seems the group think of the no surname allows them freedom to make “blatant and narcissistic ” comments… (of bad behavior) done openly and unashamedly and having an excessive or erotic interest in oneself while questioning the behavior and motives of others in a most scurrilous manner… offering no proof or evidence…

      So who will pay what is still up in the air, but it is in the best interest of the community and the project to move forward…

    2. If not “at this time” when will they be able to answer it? How is it going to change in a month or a 100 years? They messed up royally and they do not have to balls to say Tax payers you are going to pay for our INCOMPETENCE. We are not done yet wasting more millions just look at our faces. Do we look like we care?

    3. Thomas, I respect your opinion, however it would appear that you feel that the taxpayers, the ones who will ultimately receive the bill for this fiasco do not deserve a straight answer.

      I have no idea as the alderman Smith’s intentions in asking the question. However, I do believe that he deserved a yes or no answer.

    4. I am sorry Thomas, there are dozens of answers to the question, and most of them would be true and less snarky.

      He should have simply said, “Liens are a mechanism of the courts, and the actions of the judge are outside of my control. The City of Wausau will make its case that the Developer is ultimately responsible and that we have acted in good faith. If the judge finds against us, then the city staff will bring that result to the council, and the council will take action.”

      But, that is NOT what happened. Given the context of the project, and the misleading statements made by Shock in public already (documented here), this answer was a mistake.

  7. Imagine if this is a private company where the General Manager and the Sales Manager with tell the President (Tax Payers) we wasted $3.5 million and have no clue who his responsible or who will pay for it an ARROGANT, INDIFFERENT attitude. Next these two are planning to give away millions to the downtown clique in real estate and funds.

    1. No, we need to stain there real world and deal with the reality that a project has hit a major glitch and find away forward… without throwing in loaded charges that have no empirical evidence to back up the charges made by largely anonymous sources with a great deal of animus.

      I was taught to speak the truth and seek the truth, deal in facts and only talk smack when playing a game with friends…

    1. Having talked to other members of the community, neighbors, church, man’s groups. volunteer groups, readers this news outlet and the posts, people do care and that is the truth… so you also care… but we are still not able to predict the future so we continue to seek solutions and funding… some chose not to cast aspersions or spit into the wind…

  8. Todd you are correct, procedures where not followed on Thomas St. and oh well, taxpayers won’t mind
    this is progressive mindset, And John Enk just keep drinking the Kool Aid.

    1. Mayor tipple and thomas st. construction didn’t follow the procedures on purchasing/ offering the home owners money for their houses. We lost out on $2.7 million in Federal Dollars back in 2012… if Keene Winter didn’t know this and point it out, then I guess no one understood the way to appraise the homes and make offers and properly advise the people… these are questions I would have asked and answers that we needed.

      BTW, taxpayers did mind and many people were upset and we lost out on having our income taxes returned to Wisconsin from the Federal Government.
      dude, you can never claim to understand a progressive mindset, especially when also have a fiscally conservative background and question the deals made at every level.

      John Enk just keep drinking the Kool Aid.
      Do you understand I drank Kool Aid as a kid, when my family was struggling in the 50’s and 60’s, then I was off to college and worked, borrowed money and used the GI bill to finish my degree at a fine public university Arizona State University.

      I never drank the Kool Aid since I went to college. I surely didn’t drink the Kool Aid in James Town! Get a fresh comment.

  9. John in my comment it was a shot at the city’s decision makers that taxpayers don’t mind, they dig in our pockets all the time, ur easy to set off, LOL

  10. Notset off, but committed to the truth and as a tax payer, I want the job complete and people living in the buildings others opening shops and renting office space, I want action on a downtown theater if possible, and something to happen with repurposing the mall and utilizing the space for offices, housing, health care, etc.

    So if you comment was about the city… did you unknowingly type the comment about being a progressive mindset and suggesting I keep drinking Kool Aid?

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