By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — A group of consultants presented initial findings from the first phase of the market study for the Wausau Center mall Tuesday, giving the economic development committee a first look at possibilities for the struggling shopping center.
Consultants from Place and Main and Archive DS unveiled two potential solutions to better use the mall and integrate the space with the city’s vibrant downtown area. Both proposals would break the mall into smaller redevelopment parcels and pull existing street patterns through the site. Each parcel would then be redeveloped into commercial, retail, housing, mixed use, or green space and could be two to three stories high — or higher, depending on market demand.
The consultants said smaller parcels are important because no one person would be forced to undertake the entire redevelopment to make the project successful.
One plan calls for keeping the current Younkers footprint intact while the other would pull Third Street through to Forest Street, essentially cutting Younkers in half. Parking structures would remain, something the consultants called a “huge asset” for any redevelopment.
The consultants said the initial designs are long-term strategies and are still a work in progress.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Economic Development Director Chris Schock said moving forward with any plan depends largely on what the current or future mall owner would agree to undertake. The city currently owns the former Sears space, while the former Younkers space is owned by an out of state entity. The rest of the mall is currently owned by Miami-based Rialto and managed by Mid-America Management of Milwaukee.
The consultants are being paid by a grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Commission. Part of the process includes a demographic analysis, which showed the largest projected net growth in the next five years will come from seniors age 65 to 84. The study also showed a net decrease in working age adults.
Joe Borgstrom of Place and Main said the city’s current rent rates are “incredibly affordable” compared to other markets, but a lack of high end units does exist. The outlook for retail, however, does not lie in big box stores or national chains but in restaurants and niche retail areas.