By Shereen Siewert
Plans for a $24.9 million development on the city’s north riverfront area fell apart Tuesday, nearly one year after the proposal was approved by the Wausau City Council.
The proposal, submitted by Middleton-based T. Wall Enterprises, was the larger of the two projects considered in 2021 by the Wausau City Council. T. Wall proposed buying three city-owned lots for $400,000 to build three four-story buildings featuring 123 market-rate apartments with 82 underground parking spaces and about 2,300 square feet of first-floor commercial space per building. The properties lie directly south of the Wausau on the Water building, north of Stinchfield Creek.
In April 2021, the Committee chose the T. Wall project over that of Riverlife Wausau, LLC, the local group that developed The Apartments at Riverlife. Dist. 3 Alderman Tom Kilian cast the sole vote against the project.
In the 10 months since the project was approved, the city and T. Wall failed to complete a development agreement despite extensions for planning and soil testing granted to the company.
In January, the council approved a request from T. Wall to perform due diligence as part of the planning process, with a March 1 deadline to do so. Nick Patterson, representing T. Wall, contacted city officials on Feb. 9 and said soil borings were set to begin the week of Feb. 21. According to city documents, Patterson was informed on Feb. 16 that the city required certificates of insurance prior to testing. But during Tuesday’s Economic Development Committee, T. Wall representatives claimed they were unable to meet the insurance certification requirement at the site of the planned development and requested yet another extension from the city.
Wausau Economic Development Director Liz Brodek said she felt the city should have “seen a little more progress” on the project over the past 10 months.
Members of the Economic Development Committee were sharply critical of the request, citing the many hours of staff time already invested in working through the agreement.
“We’ve been back and forth on this for coming up on 10 months and we still don’t have a viable development agreement,” said Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen, noting that the March 1 deadline was “no joke.”
“As far as I’m concerned…they talk about unforeseen requirements,” Rasmussen said. “A certificate of insurance should not be an unforeseen requirement. I’m kind of done with this. We’re down to the deadline and we don’t have testing, we don’t have a development agreement…this is a company that does big projects in big cities. This should not be new.”
Tom Neal, who represents Dist. 4, said he was a fan of the project “from the get go” and was “very excited by the vision” T. Wall had for the development. He told Patterson the door could still be open for a future proposal.
Rasmussen said she, too, liked the energy and vision behind the project, but noted it came with a substantial ask. The proposal relied on more than $2.5 million in taxpayer-funded incentives.
T. Wall is also partnering with Wausau Opportunity Zone, Inc., on development at the site of the former Wausau Center mall property. In November, Chuck Ghidorzi, speaking on behalf of Wausau Opportunity Zone, suggested T. Wall would place the Riverlife project on the back burner to allow the group to focus on the mall redevelopment – shifting the timeline for the project. That declaration drew a sharp rebuke from some members of the Committee.
The request for an extension discussed on Tuesday ultimately died after none of the Committee members put forward a motion to allow it. The city will now likely issue a new request for proposals for the area, as no formal agreement was finalized with the group.
T. Wall Enterprises is led by Terrence R. Wall, who founded his former company, T. Wall Properties, in 1989 and helped build the company into one of the largest commercial real estate development and property management groups in Wisconsin. He was ousted as CEO of the former T. Wall Properties in 2012 after the real estate meltdown but soon after formed a new company, T. Wall Enterprises, to develop luxury apartments. The new company has spearheaded several high-profile projects throughout the state.