By Jeffrey Decker
Mountain Lanes, the iconic bowling alley towering above 17th Avenue in Wausau, has sold and will be demolished.
Lokre Companies purchased the property at 1501 Elm St. in December for $475,000, according to online land records. The new owners aren’t quite ready to divulge what will happen next.
“Yes, it’s sold,” said former owner Connie Nowicki. “We all had a lot of good times.”
Terms of the sale grant Nowicki two months to sell interior hardware, said Lokre Companies Owner Rolly Lokre. For five years he’s hoped to add that property to a development portfolio spanning Wisconsin and reaching into California.
“The visibility, the location by the highway. It’s a great site,” Lokre said.
Mountain Lanes opened its doors in 1964, when the sport of bowling was at its peak. Over the years, the business changed hands several times and closed at least twice, once in 2013 when Nowicki was seriously ill and again in 2016, when her efforts to revive Mountain Lanes faltered.
At that point, Kalieah Koehler reopened Mountain Lanes, bringing her Bounce On It business from the Wausau Center mall and covering several lanes with giant inflatable playpens. For one year, families won tickets and prizes in a new playzone, partitioned from the active lanes. DJs jammed, food was served, beers were poured and sports roared on the TVs.
Remodeling for a laser tag arena didn’t get far, although permits were approved and paid for. According to Marathon County Register of Deeds records, a February 2017 inspection listed required improvements that were never made. Koehler’s fiance, Kham Rattanasack, was planning to open a full service restaurant on the lower level, but the doors closed again in July 2017.
Any hopes to reopen dimmed that September when Koehler received two misdemeanor charges for refilling top shelf liquor bottles with less expensive varieties. In January 2018 she signed a deferred prosecution agreement with the Marathon County District Attorney.
After the July 2017 closure, ownership reverted back to Nowicki, who put the building up for sale after she was unable to secure one of the city’s regular liquor licenses.
Though the building will be torn down, Lokre has plans for the property but said his own redevelopment idea is now on hold.
“We had somebody else reach out to us for a different use than we were planning,” Lokre said.
Within 30 days, Lokre expects to announce the project of a new subsidiary named just for that spot, 1401 Elm Street, LLC.
He isn’t saying the new development will replace Mountain Lanes; after more than 50 years, nothing could, he said.
“It was ‘The Place in Wausau’ for many, many years,” Lokre said, recalling spending long, fun nights there both as a child and as an adult. Over the years, patrons enjoyed 24 lanes for bowling, never fewer than three pool tables and a great many video games. Ceilings over the bar and restaurant soar into an A-frame peak seen for miles. Tall windows and a patio open into the city and green hills beyond.
The closure is sad, said Dale Elliot, owner of Dale’s Weston Lanes, “Especially with a? center with so much history.”
Today, interest and demand are too strong for the area’s three bowling alleys, Elliot said. At the east end of the metro area are his 60 lanes, while Wausau has Day’s Bowl-A-Dome and its 14 lanes. Coral Lanes also has 12 lanes in Rothschild.
“Starting January 12 to May 4, Weston Lanes will be full of tournament bowlers,” Elliot said.
That’s partly due to the 117th annual U.S. Bowling Congress Tournament, but on busy nights every lane in town is already full.
“Be assured, Mountain Lanes will be missed in our community,” Elliot said. “Our many great memories will never go away.”