Finally, some good news about the mall

(First published in the October 11, 2018 issue of City Pages)

HOM Furniture looks to buy Younkers building


The city last Tuesday cleared the path for HOM Furniture to move into the former Younkers building

When Younkers closed last year, it left Wausau Center Mall without a single department store anchor, and marked an ongoing exodus that has left that south wing almost completely empty.

But there’s now some new hope for the mall: HOM Furniture has signed an intent to purchase the building that once housed Younkers, city officials say.

The Wausau City Council last Tuesday approved a minor housekeeping step that comes between the signing of an intent to purchase and the official closing transaction. The city needed to sign off on the private deal because it owns the land under the mall. Wausau’s sign off essentially says that even if the mall disappears, HOM can still operate under the city’s lease agreement, says Community Development Director Chris Schock. Though connected to the mall, the Younkers building is under a separate ownership, just as the Sears building was.

HOM Furniture was one of two proposed developers for the former Sears building, which the city bought in 2016 for roughly $650,000, shortly after Sears closed. The city approved the proposal by Micon Cinema to open a theater in the Sears building, but that project stalled after negotiations with mall owner Rialto Capital fell apart, largely due to complications over the shared wall and other property logistics. City leaders at the time said they were still in talks with HOM about another location but didn’t disclose anything further.

The Younkers building news comes right after a set of consultants hired by the city held a series of public input sessions for the corridor around the mall. It also comes after a presentation by WEDC-funded Archive DS that showed the mall being divided into city blocks again, and the two versions of that plan showed the Younkers building being repurposed.

Council President Lisa Rasmussen called the latest HOM Furniture news a big win for an area that needed it. “This is a positive step,” Rasmussen says. “This is a re-use for a building that needed one.”

Not all council members were on board with the idea. Council member Mary Thao bristled at the lack of information, including what the store might look like and the timeline of HOM building the store. City staff stressed that this is a private sale, but Thao pointed out it’s coming before the council because the city has a lease agreement and that council members should have more information. “I’m uncomfortable that this is part of the process, this ambiguity, this lack of when they will set up shop,” Thao says. She pointed to the YMCA/Aspirus project and the details that were shared with the public, despite it being a private business transaction as well.

HOM Furniture declined City Pages’ request for comment, saying they would share more details at a future date.