By Shereen Siewert
A Wausau City Council member will host a listening session for the public to ask questions and offer opinions on the current mall redevelopment vision and associated taxpayer funding.
Dist. 3 Alder Tom Kilian on Sept. 22 told city officials he would organize such a session, citing significant concerns about a lack of participation from the general public. The event is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 at the Riverside Park outdoor shelter, 100 Sherman St., Wausau.
Kilian, in a news release issued Monday, said the meeting will be the first of its kind to give the public the unfettered ability to ask questions and offer opinions on any facet of the project.
The event will begin with a presentation by Chuck Ghidorzi on the redevelopment by Wausau Opportunity Zone, (WOZ), which is asking the public for an additional $2 million to make the project a reality. Following Ghidorzi’s presentation, the floor will open for public questions about the redevelopment and associated funding.
Kilian said that in addition to recent concerns about the absence of public engagement with the project thus far, there have been longstanding desires by the public to weigh in on the mall topic.
“The public requested this type of opportunity and now it shall have it,” Kilian said. “I strongly encourage all who have an interest in this matter to participate. If city government is going to represent the will and sentiments of the people, those sentiments must come across loud and clear to City Hall, so please attend and make your voice heard.”
Kilian said the mall property in Wausau and processes associated with it have a “long history” of a lack of transparency and an abundance of controversy, starting in the 1970s when the mall was being planned. Then, land was being slowly acquired for 10 years before any public announcement was made about plans to build the mall.
The lack of public awareness and involvement continued for years, Kilian said, pointing to past media coverage including a 2015 story in the Wausau Daily Herald that detailed closed-door discussions between city leaders and owners of the Wausau Center mall on a plan for future development, plans that did not include providing any public disclosure or input.
Thursday’s meeting is not an official public hearing, but rather a public meeting to gather feedback. Kilian represents the district that includes the mall.
“This may not influence the decisions of WOZ on the project, nor the decisions of my colleagues and city staff, but it will certainly influence and inform my decisions as the district representative,”Kilian said. “To profoundly transform our downtown with public monies, and to do so without meaningful input from the public at every step,is simply unacceptable to me.”
Kilian said in general, public hearings are often “too late in the game” and process elements like the Joint Review Board have essentially been rubber stamps.
“I want to hear the public’s opinion right now – in fact, timing-wise, last year would have been preferable,” said Kilian, who was elected in April.
While some picnic table seating will be available at the shelter, citizens who are able are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. All COVID-related requirements will be observed at the meeting.
Questions regarding the meeting can be emailed to the District 3 Alderperson, Tom Kilian, at firstname.lastname@example.org.