By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — City leaders on Wednesday chose one of two competing groups to resume construction on the stalled Riverlife Villages project and say a settlement is on the horizon to satisfy about $3 million in liens associated with the development.

Members of the economic committee emerged from a closed session meeting and approved awarding the project to Gorman & Company. The company, which is headquartered in Oregon, Wis., was chosen in favor of Riverlife Wausau, LLC, a local development partnership between Bob Ohde Construction, Mitch Viegut and Dr. Fernando Riveron. The decision is subject to full council approval, which could come as early as next week.

Gorman & Company’s application, dated Sept. 25, outlines a plan to purchase the 1.8 acre property from the city for $1 to build the 38,000-square-foot building for both apartments and commercial use. The company anticipates using $1.3 million in equity and $5.7 million in loans to complete the roughly $7 million project but is not asking the city for any additional financial contribution. The group is working toward securing their financing in the coming weeks, according to their proposal.

Riverlife Wausau, LLC, also sought land acquisition from the city for the purchase price of $1 for residential construction only; additional, commercial space would only be added when feasible. The group had already secured financing and presented several letters of support from high-profile downtown business owners.

Viegut said the committee’s decision came as a surprise, especially as Ted Matkom of Gorman & Co. on Oct. 2 urged the group to choose the local development team over his own.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” Matkom said, during the Oct. 2 meeting. “I’ll tell you right now, if you guys have a local group that’s willing to put in the equity…I think with the lesson you learned with Mike Frantz, I think you take your local group and run.”

At that point, Matkom ended his Oct. 2 presentation, which prompted the local group to believe their proposal was the only one left in the running, Viegut said.

Viegut also noted his group was never asked to provide financial statements or references for a background check. But Mayor Robert Mielke insisted Thursday that a background check was completed by outside law firm Quarles & Brady prior to the committee meeting.

“Financial assessments were included in the background check,” Mielke said.

The city recently revamped Wausau’s TIF application process to include key questions about past legal and financial issues, after a Wausau Pilot and Review report revealed the CEO of the former real estate development company involved in the project was mired in a $8.3 million securities ripoff scheme in Colorado.

Looming over the project is a series of liens filed in Marathon County Circuit Court by several contractors and subcontractors, a situation Mielke said could be resolved by next week.

The Samuels Group, the prime contractor for the multi-million dollar redevelopment, filed liens in May totaling $2,797,153.10 in connection with the project.

Ayres and Associates, an Eau Claire firm that was contracted directly by the development team to design and install a geopier foundation system for the project, also filed a primary contractor lien Aug. 30 in Marathon County Circuit Court for $38,503.84. Court documents show Ayres performed work valued at $120,590.17 and has so far been paid $83,086.33. The Ayres construction lien names Wausau Riverlife, LLC and Barker Financial, LLC.

Additional subcontractor liens have also been filed against the project, but it is not clear if those amounts are in addition to the prime contractor liens on file.

“On Tuesday, the council will discuss a potential settlement with all of the parties involved,” Mielke wrote in an email to Wausau Pilot and Review, adding that the amount will not require a budget amendment.

“It is already been budgeted for,” he wrote.

Rendering: Mudrovich Architects