By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — The primary contractor spearheading the troubled Riverlife development filed two construction liens against the city of Wausau this month totaling more than $2.8 million, the first time the city has been specifically named in legal action in connection with the project.

The Samuels Group, Inc., of Wausau, notified the city Aug. 3 by registered letter delivered to Mayor Rob Mielke and to City Clerk Toni Rayala outlining the intention to file a lien against Wausau based on providing materials that improved city property, according to court documents. The city had 30 days to respond or satisfy the debt. The liens were filed Sept. 19 in Marathon County Circuit Court for $704,372.65 and $2,092,780.45.

The amounts of the liens exactly match the unsatisfied liens filed by Samuels against Barker Financial, LLC and Quantum Ventures, LLC in May, several months after construction stopped on the Riverlife Villages Phase I project.

Wausau owns the land upon which the buildings were being constructed and state law does not have a provision allowing a property owner to deny responsibility for improvements. And court documents specifically describe improvements made to the city’s property as the basis for the lien, which suggests taxpayers could be on the hook for paying unpaid contractors who spent many months and millions of dollars working on the project.

City Attorney Anne Jacobson said property owners can be held liable for improvements made on their land.

“And the City does own the land that is the subject of the liens to which you refer,” Jacobson wrote, in an email to Wausau Pilot and Review. “Whether the City, as the owner, would be held liable depends of course on compliance with state statutes in enforcing the lien claims.”

The Samuels Group had a signed contract for the work, which was performed between September 2017 and March 2018, court records show.

City Council President Lisa Rasmussen deferred to the city attorney on the question of whether the city is liable for the improvements made on the land, but added that she believes a landowner can become liable if the liens are foreclosed upon.

Rasmussen also noted that the city has some options relative to the liens and the funds that have been spent on design, but since those discussions have taken place in closed session the details cannot be made public.

“All I can say is that the fact that there are options, is due to the strength of the developer agreement that was executed initially by the city,” Rasmussen said. “Hopefully once the ED Committee has had a chance to interact with the proposers that emerged from the RFP process, we will be able to talk a little more about the project, the current and any future level of public partnership and the next steps. Obviously, if there are negotiations with a new developer, those topics will be addressed as well as the path forward in terms of costs and timeline.”

City officials on Sept. 11 terminated Wausau’s ground lease and development agreement with Barker Financial, LLC, of Iowa, an entity that Economic Development Director Chris 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. Frantz is facing multiple accusations of wrongdoing in Wisconsin and other states including Florida, where he is accused of luring a childhood friend into a $3 million Ponzi-style scheme.

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.

In August, city officials received three letters of interest for the east riverfront development, two of which are from developers potentially interested in taking over the current Riverlife Villages Phase I project. But at least two of those letters clearly state that the current lien situation would need to be resolved before any action is taken.

Economic Development Director Chris Schock and Economic Development Committee Chair Tom Neal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

12 replies on “Wausau named in $2.7 million lien for Riverlife project”

  1. Holy crap. The Samuels family has never been one to trifle with.

    One of the guys said that the City of Wausau would end up settling all the amounts. Shock said what he said at the Riverlife meeting about money being allocatable by the council for whatever it wants, when he was asked how the City would pay off these liens.

    No comments, no comments.

  2. The incompetent Chris Schock, Mayor Rob Mielke, Tom Neal, and City Attorney Anne Jacobson should pay for their stupidities to please the downtown clique.

  3. The City is now DIRECTLY involved in these liens. So, the whole, its not us thing put forth is not going to work.

    And still no comment from the Economic Development Committee members, the Mayor, nor the staff (save Anne Jacobson). Shameful.

    I checked all the facebook pages of the Committee members, and no comment about the 2.7 million dollars the taxpayers are facing in liens.

  4. Yeah, sadly, Call you have in fact said it over and over. We all keep saying this stuff over and over, and the Mayor and the ED committee do nothing to alter the course.

    I thought the whole thing from one of the committee members about not being involved in the liens can now be put to bed.

    I am sure the Mayor is sitting in his office cursing Shereen for daring to report this. Or the Thomas street project. When he can control these stories with the slightest bit of actual transparency.

  5. I feel bad saying this, but I think Lisa Rasmussen missed the boat here. I am not sure how much room for anything there is for the City of Wausau. Somehow pinning it to the next round of RFP’s (when you failed the first round so famously) seems unrealistic.

    I do not think a developer would take on a lien payment just to get access to a project that they will not own when this is over.

    Instead, the taxpayers in Wausau will pay for these liens.

    1. “taxpayers in Wausau will pay for these liens” … Not sure why? That is an exclusive TIF club that their taxes do not contribute to the rest of the city. When it fails they can pay for it. Take that $3 some millions divide it by all the TIF beneficiaries and add it to their taxes. Or if they have couple drops of brain cell left in them, offer the lot or couple lots with the foundations/construction to The Samuels Group, Inc. and walk away from pleasing the downtown clique.

      1. Ron,

        Is that right about the TIF thing? I do not know much about TIF stuff, and the City of Wausau website is sort of horrible, so I could not really find anything.

        I have been thinking about language and how tell stories even to ourselves for a few days now. And I think it that this might be a thing. So, the Mayor of Shock see a piece of space that has not been used, and they think “We need to do something with that”. Like, WE NEED TO FIX THE MALL. Instead if that question would be, “How can someone be encouraged to do something there?” or HOW CAN WE HELP SOMEONE SEE VALUE IN THE MALL?

        One focuses on what the City can do, assuming that they have an ACTIVE roll in all of this stuff. The other, encourages private business to do something.

        I will end up thinking about this all day.

  6. Yes Dino! Their taxes are used ONLY to their benefits. Also see “Unintended consequences” in the link.
    “- The TIF process arguably leads to favoritism for politically connected developers
    – Local governments are under no obligation to recognize when TIF designation would adversely affect a school district’s financial condition”

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