Finance committee to look at modified mall plan

WOZ plan


WOZ plan

Wausau’s finance committee will consider a new mall redevelopment plan with details much more favorable to the city. But not everyone is satisfied.

Wausau’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday approved a modified mall development agreement, passing it on to the Finance Committee Tuesday.

The newly approved terms, negotiated by Mayor Katie Rosenberg, turn a $1 million forgivable loan into a $660,000 no-interest loan that is to be repaid; it guarantees payment in lieu of taxes should the property value after 2025 not be more than $7 million; and gives the city the option to approve the final redevelopment design completed by Eppstein-Uhem. 

It also provides 95,000 square feet of land for city street redevelopment; that allows for an updated downtown street grid that will adopt street recommendations from Toole Design, a consultant contracted under former Mayor Robert Mielke. The plans eliminate many one-way streets and improve pedestrian and bicycle access, and redesign some problematic intersections. 

The plan also returns the Sears ramp back to the city. 

Rosenberg says making the new terms was important to make sure the project is a win for the city. “If we demolish the block, it can’t be something that doesn’t produce for us,” Rosenberg says. “We’re looking out for the business interests of the city. That’s where these changes come from.”

As part of the new terms, Finance Director MaryAnne Groat stepped down from the WOZ board. Though initially included as a means of giving the city a voice in an organization they were funding, Rosenberg told City Pages her being on the board “wasn’t really helping the city’s position in the way the previous council, administration, and community development director probably intended.”

The resignation happened because an inquiry by City Council Member Tom Kilian ultimately revealed that Groat’s board membership gave her 20% voting rights on the WOZ board, whereas the municipal code considers anything more than 10% to be formally associated with an organization, which could signal a conflict of interest.

Economic Development Committee Lisa Rasmussen lauded Rosenberg’s negotiation, saying that this should satisfy newer council members who ran on criticism that past councils didn’t involve themselves in negotiations enough. 

But they didn’t satisfy everyone. Committee member Tom Kilian raised concerns about the legality of the $327,000 annual payments (the new agreement would eliminate them, but one has been paid). He also expressed concerns about how potential environmental contamination on the site is handled in the deal.

And Council Member Lou Larson, not on the committee, said that he couldn’t support a project that improved downtown streets while many roads in his district are still in rough shape and go ignored. 

The plan passed 4-1 and will go before the city council. 

Additional info: City Pages has updated this story to reflect more details about Groat’s resignation from the WOZ board. Although included in the new terms of the development agreement in city documents provided to Economic Development Committee members, as stated in the previous version of the story, new information was provided by one of the city’s council members as to why the resignation happened in the first place.