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By Lisa Rasmussen, chairperson of Wausau’s Finance and Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance Committees
This week, local leaders are discussing plans for Wausau Center that offer many new possibilities in terms of growth, business development, new tax base and infrastructure. I am excited to see what the future holds for this area that has been relatively unchanged since 1982.
The first exciting detail is that the plan will “de-mall” the mall, which residents have been hoping to see for some time. The days of everything under one roof and massive mall buildings creating barriers for traffic and outdoor walkability are gone. Demolition of the mall with the exception of HOM Furniture and the parking ramps will allow the extension of 2nd, 3rd and Jackson Streets back where they were before there was a mall, creating new ways for us to use the area. The eight square block obstacle that is the mall will be gone, knowing it served its purpose as an economic engine for 30 years.
It is time for new life for that area. People and vehicles will be able to get through easily under the new plan where they cannot today. Washington Street will return to two-way traffic and new spaces will be created for a public market, outdoor beer garden and connections to the south riverfront area.
Our partner, Wausau Opportunity Zone, has been able to time this plan to draw on new educational and business development opportunities by collaborating with the Greater Wausau group and others working to re-use the historic building on Clarks Island. This will bring new jobs, residents and commerce to Wausau as we prepare for the industries that will shape the future of our region.
In place of the mall, we will see mixed use buildings, office spaces and public gathering areas. While there is a public-private partnership needed to demolish Wausau Center and re-create the street grid that was lost when the mall was constructed, it appears the first building planned will create a substantial return on that investment, not to mention the other buildings proposed for the area.
When our local foundations came together to form the WOZ group, it was to help Wausau gain local control of Wausau Center and repurpose the area to optimize potential. It was known that some level of public-private partnership will be needed to clear the site for new projects.
Site prep and infrastructure are the things the city should partner on for this project, since we all benefit from new roads and residents have been clear about wanting solutions for the mall area. These are things that spur growth and draw new projects and people to Wausau.
In the coming weeks, we will begin our 2021 budget process, with an eye toward continuing services residents expect and appreciate and using development dollars to their best potential. Creating something new and exciting where the mall stands idle is a critical part of that potential.
In discussion with the WOZ group, they are planning public information sessions so residents can view and comment on the plan and the timeline to see new things happening and gain a return on our investment. As these sessions come together, I hope our community will take time to see the plan and vision that can transform five square blocks of tired space that is obstructing progress here.
The time is now to begin seeing how Wausau can look if we invest in creating that future. With good planning and partnership, we can create a vibrant and new commerce center that will serve Wausau for decades.
Lisa Rasmussen is the Dist. 7 City Council representative and former president of the Wausau City Council.