By Shereen Siewert

A plan to raze the former Ponderosa Motel to make way for an eight-unit affordable-rate apartment complex is under review this week in Wausau, one of three proposals received for the fire-ravaged building.

Marathon County took ownership of the motel, at 2101 Grand Ave., Wausau, in December 2018 in an effort to recover unpaid property taxes dating back to 2013. Property values at the motel had declined steadily since 1998 and plummeted in 2015 when a blaze ripped through the building, displacing about 30 long-term residents.

Wausau’s Community Development Authority took ownership of the building in September.

The CDA in late December, after reviewing a single proposal by the Schultz Real Estate and Property Management Group to renovate the building into 16 efficiency units, issued a request for proposals to widen the scope of possible uses for the property. In February, three proposals were unveiled; members of the CDA ultimately rejected the Schultz plan and one additional proposal in favor of a project submitted by Wausau-based Emmerich & Associates.

Under the terms of the proposal, Emmerich would purchase the property for $10,000 and the city would tear the current building down using blight remediation funds, city officials said.. Construction would begin before the end of 2020 and would be complete by the end of 2021.

Economic Development Director Chris Schock said the roughly $600,000 project could be expanded if the company buys adjacent property.

“If not, it would be an 8-unit apartment building and would be held affordable for a minimum of 7 years,” Schock said, in an email to Wausau Pilot & Review.

Emmerich is negotiating on property next to the hotel, the former site of Eagle’s Nest restaurant, which relocated several years ago to Schofield.

Officials said the Aug. 17, 2015 fire was caused by negligent use of burning materials, possibly a cigarette. At the time of the fire, the Ponderosa Motel provided temporary accommodations for residents seeking permanent housing and work in the Wausau area.

Unpaid property taxes at the site totaled more than $63,000 when the property changed hands. In addition, the county spent about $9,400 on environmental site assessments and other costs associated with the building, according to city documents.

The total value of the property in 1998 was $217,900, according to the Marathon County Land Records system; the value dropped to $150,000 in 2016.

When complete, the proposed apartments will be valued at about $600,000, according to city documents. The CDA will review a term sheet this week for the project, which is subject to full council approval.

Site of a proposed 8-unit apartment complex at the former Ponderosa Motel. Source: City of Wausau documents, April 27, 2020