By Shereen Siewert

Representatives from the former Riverlife team now spearheading a $44 million downtown redevelopment issued Wausau a legal ‘notice of injury’ days ahead of a scheduled closed session meeting set to discuss public funding for their project, only to pull the notice on Tuesday.

Initially, Terrence Wall, of T. Wall Enterprises, told Wausau Pilot & Review in an email that the notice, issued Friday, pertained to the Riverlife development, a $24.9 million deal that fell apart in March after nearly a year of negotiations.

“A notice of injury was sent to the city attorney recently in regards to the RiverLife District site that we had under an RFP with the city,” Wall wrote. “We do not at this time intend to proceed with a notice of claim, but our attorney advised us that in order to maintain our rights, we should file the ‘notice of potential injury.’”

Hours after the first email was sent to Wausau Pilot & Review on Tuesday, Wall sent a second email saying the notice will be withdrawn “after conversations with the city…and after seeing the confusion our prior legal notice caused.”

Wall is partnering with Wausau Opportunity Zone, Inc., on a major development at the site of the former Wausau Center mall property. Wall, however, insists that T. Wall Enterprises is a separate entity from The Foundry on 3rd Development LLC, which is the group proposing the downtown redevelopment on land which is now owned by WOZ.

But state records obtained by Wausau Pilot & Review show T. Wall Enterprises is the registered agent for The Foundry on 3rd Development. Wall has not clarified what separates the two entities, and so far T. Wall’s letterhead has appeared on multiple documents presenting The Foundry’s vision to the city and its plan moving forward.

Wausau Economic Development agenda as of 3:p.m. on Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Wausau Development Director Liz Brodek on Tuesday responded to a request for documentation to support agenda items that specified “discussion and possible action” as well as a closed session on a “development agreement with The Foundry on 3rd Development (T. Wall…)” by denying any such discussion was expected to take place, even though the items are clearly marked on the agenda.

“Regarding the request for materials, we were not going to discuss a specific development agreement today, which is why no materials were included with the packet,” Brodek responded.

Now, Brodek said she will pull the agenda item “because no legal counsel is available and we do not want to enter closed session without legal counsel present.”

Though the public has had a first look at renderings for the project, specific funding sources have been kept from the public so far, though Brodek told Wausau Pilot & Review in a May email that she expects “with near certainty there will be a [Tax Increment Financing] request” moving forward.

“The amount will be negotiated,” she said. But even a ballpark range has not been publicly disclosed.

Even the precise location of the project not entirely clear. According to JLA Architects, ‘The Foundry on 3rd’ “will encompass the land between Washington and Jefferson Streets at 3rd Street where the Wausau Center Mall once stood.” The former mall did not encompass that parcel of land; rather, a line of restaurants and retail stores occupy the land between Washington and Jefferson Streets along the Third Street corridor. Other renderings show the building between Washington and Jackson Street.

JLA Architects, a firm with offices in Madison, Denver and Milwaukee, touts the project on its website as a five-story building with retail and commercial space, co-working space, an interior courtyard green space and 154 urban apartments ranging from micro-units to three-bedroom units, according to JLA Architects. Wausau Opportunity Zone, Inc. and T. Wall Enterprises released design plans and artist renderings in late May for the project.

T. Wall is listed repeatedly as the developer for the downtown project including a discussion on the size of the “micro-units” being proposed in the space, which would require a zoning change. Currently, the proposed unit size is 355 square feet. This would be under the minimum size currently allowed in the zoning code, which is 400 square feet, a number downsized in 2020 from 800 square feet. Although micro-unit has no standard definition, industry insiders say the phrase refers to a small studio apartment, typically less than 350 square feet, with a fully functioning and accessibility compliant kitchen and bathroom.

What remains most murky from a public standpoint is how much of the $44 million price tag will be borne by the taxpayers themselves. Dave Eckmann, president of Wausau Opportunity Zone, Inc., deferred repeated questions about the public’s investment to Brodek after releasing a statement that boasted the group’s $44 million “investment” in the project. Neither the statement nor follow up emails disclosed how much of the final cost would actually be privately funded.

Wall’s decision to file the notice prompted at least one city official, Wausau City Council Becky McElhaney, to express doubts about working with the group on the downtown project.

“I do not believe it is in the best interest of the city taxpayers to enter into any agreements with T. Wall or any subsidiary of T.  Wall after receiving the notice of injury on Friday,” McElhaney told Wausau Pilot & Review.

Wall 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. Wall was also a former candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010 but dropped out of the race after the Republican establishment endorsed Ron Johnson, according to CapTimes.

Mayor Katie Rosenberg did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Sarah Watson, chair of the Economic Development Committee, responded only to confirm that the closed session item would be pulled from the agenda but did not otherwise comment.