By Shereen Siewert
Wausau officials on Tuesday will consider a proposal by a newly-formed nonprofit organization to purchase and revitalize the troubled Wausau Center mall, with a city investment of $1 million.
According to the meeting packet Wausau Opportunity Zone Fund, Inc., or WOZ, is a nonprofit corporation organized and funded by local philanthropic foundations for the sole purpose of acquiring Wausau Center and partnering with city officials to ensure the mall is used “in a manner that supports the quality of life, and long-term economic benefit of taxpayers of Wausau by maintaining an attractive, and vibrant downtown.” The packet does not specify which philanthropic partners are involved in the effort, and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions does not yet list the corporation in the state’s public database.
According to City Clerk Toni Rayala preliminary proposal details were uploaded to the city’s website and faxed to the Wausau Daily Herald newsroom at 4:30 p.m. Monday, narrowly meeting the state’s 24-hour open meetings requirements. The city’s municipal code calls for council and committee packets to be prepared and available no less than six days prior to the scheduled meeting, but the city council president or committee chair may waive the requirement for good cause.
The proposal is set for closed session discussion and possible action on Tuesday.
According to city documents WOZ is asking for the city to agree to a $1 million forgivable loan to aid in acquisition costs of the mall and convey ownership of all Wausau-owned interests on the property to the group for $1. That includes the former Sears building along with the ground and air rights associated with the mall.
Wausau bought the Sears building in 2017 for $650,000 but has since struggled to fill the space. Micon, a family-owned theater company with three theaters in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls, had originally planned a 10-screen complex for the building that would have required a roughly $10 million investment into the project. But those plans fell apart in 2017. The space has been used for storage in recent months. Since the city’s 2017 purchase of the Sears space, the property has essentially been off the city’s — and county’s — tax rolls. In 2016, the property was assessed at $4 million and generated $101,023.81 in property taxes. Of that, $38,698.07 went to the city of Wausau, according to the Marathon County Land Records system.
A future development plan could require portions of the mall area to be conveyed to a municipal organization or other party yet to be determined in order to make the best use of the city’s redevelopment tools, the proposal states.
“This venture was undertaken out of concern that sale of the distressed mall to an out-of-area entity, one not strongly enlisted in the Wausau community, could lead to undesirable property uses and demands on the City for economic concessions that would accrue solely to the benefit of out-of-area developers,” the proposal reads.
City officials have said little publicly about the proposal so far. A joint meeting of the city’s finance and economic development committee will be held at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau.
“We are aware that a local consortium will present their proposal and request, we look to hearing that tonight,” said Economic Development Director Chris Schock.
See the full packet and proposal here.