An after life for Riverlife?

(First published in the September 13, 2018 issue of City Pages)

Wausau looks to move on with a different developer


Chad Lemmens

Stalled at the foundation: An aerial view of the Riverlife retail and residential development footprint on Wausau’s riverfront.

The city of Wausau is moving forward with dumping the current, financially troubled developer of the Riverlife commercial project and examining three new proposals to replace it.

The Economic Development Committee Tuesday voted to recommend terminating the ground lease with developer Mike Frantz for the city-owned land on the newly revamped east river front. The foundation of the Riverlife retail and residential building was started, but construction came to a halt this spring and liens of more than $2 million have been filed against Frantz and Quantum Ventures by contractors for unpaid work. This triggered a default of the city’s agreement for the project.

The final deadline for the developer to cure the defaults was Aug. 23. The city believes no liens have been satisfied to date, says Christian Schock, director of the Community Development Department for the city. “The new proposers are aware of the liens and work that has been done to date.”

“In early 2016, the City Council unanimously chose Frantz Community Investors as their preferred master developer and unfortunately a lot has changed for them (some issues not within their control) but we have allowed the developer ample time to find new investors financing, and negotiate terms with their contractor to complete the project,” Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke said in a press release on the Riverlife status. “While these challenges are not the City’s issues directly, the development agreement and ground lease of the property holds the parties accountable to continue moving the project forward or empowers the City to move forward with a different development team/partner.”

The committee is sending a recommendation to the full city council (to be voted on Sept. 11) to formally end any agreements between the city and Frantz.

The committee also directed staff to work with three companies that submitted proposals to replace or pick up the Riverlife project. Schock will ask for more details and invite them to present their plans in open session on October 2 to the committee.

Two of the proposals appear to pick up where the last developer left off. “It doesn’t sound like that would be many changes to the current project, which I think is kind of a good thing,” says Mielke. “The third proposal kind of wants to do something a little different on another part of the area.”

Proposals from Gorman & Company out of Oregon, Wis., and from Mitch Viegut & Ohde Construction from Wausau/Daytona Beach, Fla., both would essentially take over the current Riverlife Village Phase 1 project as planned. Gorman’s letter to the city expressed doubt about retail prospects, but suggested apartments could fill the footprint.

The other proposal by Dave Johnson, would add a $9.75 million, three-story, 17-unit high-end condominium complex on a nearby parcel.