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Wausau chooses new Riverlife developer, will satisfy $2.5M in liens

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By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — City leaders on Tuesday finalized plans to satisfy an estimated $2.5 million in liens associated with the stalled Riverlife Phase I development, clearing the way for Gorman & Company to assume control of the project this spring.

Under the terms of an agreement approved by the Wausau City Council, former development partner Barker Financial will also be required to repay about $450,000 in loans and other unspecified costs.

In a radio interview Wednesday on WXCO, Mayor Rob Mielke insisted the taxpayers are “protected” in the deal and said the money being spent for the lien satisfaction is money previously allocated for developer incentives.

“It’s a protected type of thing, kinda complicated to explain,” Mielke said in his interview. “We’ll be getting (the money) back. It’s a process and we’re moving forward.”

Mielke said it is too early to explain how the city will recoup the funds being spent because the development agreement with Gorman has not yet been finalized.

Members of the economic development committee in November chose Gorman & Company to resume construction on the project, a decision that was finalized by the full council on Tuesday. 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.

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.

Planning for the transformation has long been in the works; the city in 1995 began buying up properties along the river, cleaning up contaminated land and preparing the area for future development. And in 2011, the city purchased the 16-acre parcel currently being developed from MCDEVCO for $2.6 million.

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.

Mielke said construction will resume this spring and should be completed in the spring of 2020.

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