Mall’s long goodbye

Consultants presented a number of ideas for Wausau Center, and none see it remaining as, well, a mall


In Wausau Center mall’s stead: Most of the preliminary ideas presented at City Hall last week showed mixed-use developments that tended to resemble an extension of traditional downtown streets.

Local residents and Wausau City Council members got the first look last week at a number of ideas for what the Wausau Center mall could become. None of those ideas included the site remaining as a shopping mall.

The preliminary options presented Thursday, May 31, for the eight-block area in downtown range from mixed-used commercial and residential developments to single family houses. The ideas were presented by representatives of Place and Main advisors and Archive DS architects, consultants hired by a state grant with a history of re-envisioning troubled mall areas.

This represented the first steps in re-envisioning the mall space. The firms were working through a $20,000 contract through the WEDC to help revitalize the area, and provide information to help bring together the private interest of the mall owners and public interests of keeping such a large piece of real estate viable.

Possibilities presented by Joe Borgstrom of Place and Main included various mixed-use commercial development designs, rowhouses and duplex, triplex and quadplex living arrangements, even single-family houses and strip mall buildings. The idea was to get input on what building types the council and public found most interesting, Borgstrom said. Place and Main will then do analyses to determine the feasibility of various types of buildings. The mall’s redevelopment will then likely incorporate a number of different building types.

Wausau Center is in an interesting situation, Borgstrom says. For one, the mall is struggling—it has lost all three department store anchors and many other retailers—while the rest of downtown is thriving with just a 3% vacancy rate. That likely indicates there are small local businesses that would like to locate downtown but can’t find the space. Revamping the mall area could provide numerous new downtown storefronts, Borgstrom says.

While Borgstrom told City Pages that the redevelopment process is yet unclear at this early stage, it’s unlikely—but possible—that some of the mall’s structure could be redeveloped. Stevens Point did when it turned the JC Penney wing of the defunct CenterPoint MarketPlace into a new campus for Mid-State Technical College.

Borgstrom told City Pages this week that the mall owners, Rialto Capital Management, met with consultants and stakeholders in the community Friday, June 1, and expressed being open to the idea of the site no longer being a mall. Rialto, in fact had considered the possibility themselves, Borgstrom says.

City Council members seemed most interested in a commercial/mixed use development with multi-family housing. Instantly rejected were single family houses and strip mall buildings, with one council member saying the latter already comprises much of the west side of Wausau.

The city-owned parking ramps will be another concern. Wausau Finance Director Maryanne Groat says the city in 2017 performed maintenance work on the ramps adjacent to the mall, and that the ramps likely have a life expectancy of another 20 years. It would be prudent to incorporate these large structures into any future plans, Groat says.

The city owns the land on which the mall is built, and has a large say in whatever development occurs there.

One wildcard at this point is the Younkers building. That structure is owned by a California-based family trust, whose principals to this point have largely been out of the loop in whole mall saga.

Place and Main next will conduct a demographics survey, while the architects, Archive DS, will develop conceptual designs based on the actual mall space.