Damakant Jayshi

A proposal for a $45 million housing project along the city’s east riverfront that relies on about $6.75 million in taxpayer incentives was approved Thursday by members of the Wausau City Council.

Council members also tabled discussion on a major Wausau downtown redevelopment project after Mayor Katie Rosenberg proposed doing so.

The Riverlife District project, from Mosinee-based S.C. Swiderski, LLC, is a mixed-use development on three lots at approximately 1200 N. River Drive. Swiderski offered $400,000 to purchase the land from the city.

City participation in the Swiderski project, named The Sterling, represents about 15 percent of the overall cost through tax increment financing. With City Council approval, staff will now begin negotiations with the developer.

The company proposes a seven-story multi-family building with 200 units comprising studios, studio suites, one- and two-bedroom units and four penthouses. The proposal includes 345 parking spots – with 324 combined interior parking spaces and 21 located on a surface lot.

Concerns about the project’s massive size were raised during the meeting.

Alder Gary Gisselman opposed the proposal, saying the building would dominate the riverfront and take up precious green space along the riverfront now used by many people in the city. Citizens are being asked to “pay too much” for the project, he said.

However, Alders Lisa Rasmussen and Chad Henke supported the project, saying it was a need. Henke said the project aligns well with the city’s new strategic plan, which the Council reviewed during the meeting.

Rasmussen said the project will increase the city’s tax base and will have a direct local impact because the developer is from the area.

However, Alder Tom Kilian, challenged that tax idea and recounted the history of failed Wausau development projects and the city’s lack of affordable housing. If the City of Wausau had done better on housing in the past, “we wouldn’t have to be so desperate for tax revenue overlooking affordable housing,” he said.

Alder Lou Larson said he wished the “Economic Development Department” put the same level of energy into affordable housing as it does on “luxury housing.”Rasmussen tried to respond but because she had already spoken twice on the matter, Larson formally objected. The city’s Finance Committee, chaired by Rasmussen, approved three affordable housing-related projects just prior to the Council meeting.

On the former mall project, the discussion would have centered on amending the general development plan at 301 & 411 Washington Street. The Plan Commission approved the amendment on June 21.

Initially, Rasmussen was opposed to tabling the discussion, saying Council members have all the details they need to make their decision.

But after Community Development Director Liz Brodek sought more time to prepare a detailed general agreement and “all the financials,” Rasmussen agreed. Brodek said the agreement will be ready by next month. The specific plan for the project would emerge after general agreement, she added.