By Shereen Siewert
An announcement that Wausau will prioritize the mall redevelopment over an already approved riverfront apartment project drew a sharp rebuke from several members of the city’s Economic Development Committee who did not hear of the change until Tuesday.
During the Committee meeting Tuesday, Chuck Ghidorzi, speaking on behalf of Wausau Opportunity Zone, said T. Wall Enterprises, the developer chosen earlier this year for a $24.9 million high end apartment complex on the north riverfront, now intends to partner with WOZ on the former mall property.
T. Wall Enterprises’ apartment complex proposal was chosen in May during a competitive process over that of Riverlife Wausau, LLC, the local group that developed The Apartments at Riverlife. Now, that project could be placed on the back burner to allow T. Wall to focus on the mall redevelopment, shifting the timeline that the City Council previously approved.
The announcement took several Committee members by surprise including Tom Kilian, who represents Dist. 3 and the area that includes the mall. Now, Kilian is calling for greater government oversight in public-private partnerships.
“This is not a choose your own adventure, that if something goes through committee and is approved, and goes through the council and is approved, that audibles aren’t pulled in back door sessions,” Kilian said. “I think this has been a problem in Wausau for decades.”
Kilian said the city should be a democracy, not an oligarchy and the only way to ensure that is to make sure there is government oversight in public-private partnerships.
“This is not an ATM and we’re not just here to rubber stamp what the downtown culture would like,” Kilian said. “This is the municipal government and things need to be nailed down tighter than this. When there are profound changes I’d certainly like to hear about it a lot sooner and I think our colleagues on the City Council would as well.”
Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen said she had no issue with T. Wall partnering on the mall redevelopment, but said such major changes must be routed through the Economic Development Committee, who would help determine whether to approve the delayed timeline or shift to a different developer.
“We have a process for that but it certainly starts in this committee and we need to see that soon,” Rasmussen said.
Economic Development Director Liz Brodek said the meetings only took place over the past few weeks and no development agreements have been finalized.
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