Damakant Jayshi

Wausau’s Economic Development Committee on Monday awarded an affordable housing development project on Grand Avenue to Commonwealth Development Corp. of America, one of three groups that responded to a request for proposals for the site.

Commonwealth vision for affordable housing at 700 Grand Ave. in Wausau. Source: City of Wausau documents

The Commonwealth’s project, at an estimated cost of $16.5 million, consists of a four-story, 50-unit affordable housing development with 15 one-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom and 19 three-bedroom lots to accommodate both single individuals and families with children. The project completion date is the summer of 2024, according to the developer’s documents.

Under the Commonwealth plan, monthly rent would range from $493 to $1,298 depending on the size of the apartment and income levels. The group seeks to purchase the land for $1 and receive $1.5 million from the city to assist in funding the roughly $16.5 million project.

Dist. 3 Alder Tom Kilian asked about the modalities of the city’s funding assistance through Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, as requested by some of the developers since the property is not located within a Tax Increment District, TID.

Community Development Director Liz Brodek said the city can employ an exception that allows use of TIF funds within a half-mile radius of Tax Increment District 8. The city has the option either to put the development within the TID or put the cost on the tax roll.

Kilian said he would prefer moving ahead without “any significant adjustments” to the TID.

Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen also said she preferred no additional obligation for the city. If the city can capture a year of a closed TID increments and divert it to this project that would be ideal, she said, since the city will not be taking any additional obligations.

Alder Carol Lukens, who represents Dist. 1, brought up the potential increase of traffic due to the project at the intersection of Thomas St. and Grand Ave. She said some residents raised concerns about the traffic around the intersection, given the size of the housing development.

Brodek said that no traffic study has been done to determine whether the area can accommodate the density of traffic in that corner. But city officials have held discussions with key departments that will be touched by the housing development – police, fire, public works, and engineering – and none expressed any concern, she said.

Altogether, the committee discussed four proposals for 700 Grand Ave. The group first discussed the proposals on Oct. 4 but tabled the agenda item to allow more time for public input. Information on each proposal was released just one day before that meeting, prompting concern from some members of the committee and the public.

The city acquired the property in 1997 for the purpose of making a right of way or turn lane from Thomas Street or Grand Avenue, a plan that did not come to fruition. In 2019, then-Mayor Robert Mielke authorized planting fruit trees on the property as a therapeutic horticulture initiative that aimed to use the practice of community gardening to provide stress relief, as well as emotional and social therapy. A group of seven jail inmates planted the trees at what is known as Gaining Ground Gardens.

The other developers – Horizon Development Group Inc. and Northernstar Companies, LLC, General Capital Group and Danna Capital, and Gorman & Company – had also proposed constructing about 50 units.

Commonwealth proposes a partnership with the North Central Community Action Program, Inc. and the Marathon County Veterans Services Office moving forward.

The developer’s proposal pointed out that of all Marathon County communities, Wausau has the highest ALICE and poverty rate, at 46%. ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — households that earn more than the federal poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county.

Members of the Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to accept the Middleton-based developer’s proposal after deliberating the subject briefly in an open session, followed by a closed session. The proposed development project at the intersection of Thomas St. and Grand Ave. on the south side of the city’s downtown now goes to the 11-member City Council for its consideration.