Dude, where’s my theater?

A downtown theater on the former Sears site should have kicked off by now. Turns out the project is still in question.


Jesse Yang

Work should have begun by July on Micon’s downtown cinema in the former Sears building. But with the deal on the ropes, the city wants to know by the end of the month whether it’s a go or not.

Work should have begun months ago on a 10-screen, downtown theater in the former Sears location. Early this year city leaders said demolition would begin in spring and construction this summer on a project that had broad public interest.

Months later, the former Sears building still sits untouched, and city officials are starting to wonder when, or if, the theater is going to happen.

The city in January approved a deal with Eau Claire-based Micon Cinemas to build a theater with luxury seating and dining and drinking amenities, in the former Sears location—attached to Wausau Center Mall but a separate building— that the city bought for $650,000. Under the deal, Micon would demolish the building and rebuild a theater with retail space. In negotiations between mall owner Rialto Capital Management and Micon Cinemas, the space was redesigned to include a plaza that separates the theater and the mall.

Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke says he’s concerned about the delays and that the project should have started no later than July in order to meet a Dec. 31, 2018 opening date originally set by Micon. Micon representatives themselves aid at a public meeting in January they planned to start construction this summer.

Mielke made clear that the city’s part in the negotiations have pretty much concluded, but that Micon Cinemas and Rialto Capital Management have bickered over a number of issues. “It’s been really frustrating,” Mielke says.

“If the deal doesn’t go through, it will be disappointing, but not the end of the world,” Mielke says. The city in January chose Micon over HOM Furniture, both of which responded to requests for proposals for the site after Sears shuttered. Other entities have expressed interest in the site, though Mielke declined to name those entities while the Micon deal is still on the table.

City council member Romey Wagner, one of three who voted against the Micon Cinemas proposal in January, says he has been extremely frustrated with the continual delays.

“I hold the city responsible,” Wagner says, saying the city should have done more on the front end to make sure the project went smoothly. Wagner favored HOM Furniture’s proposal, which would not have used tax incentives nor been included in a TIF district.

The city so far has incurred roughly $17,000 in legal fees on the deal, including around $14,500 on the lease and $2,500 on the development agreement, according to the city attorney’s office.

Though it doesn’t own the former Sears building, mall owner Rialto Capital, and its management company Mid-America Asset, have a stake in that property that was set when the mall was first built. Sears opened a year before the mall did, in 1982, and made an agreement to be connected to the mall. The mall has a role in the original ground lease and the matter of the shared wall.

An email sent to Micon Cinemas Manager Dan Olson was not returned and a call to his number was forwarded to Micon’s automated voice message.

Mielke says he wants to have an answer about the theater deal before Sept. 26, the date of the next city council meeting. “My patience is coming to an end,” Mielke says.