New (river) life

(First published in the October 4, 2018 issue of City Pages)

Local developer Bob Ohde urged choosing a Wausau-based company to complete the Riverlife project. Even the out-of-town competitor agrees.


From left, Fernando Riveron, Mitch Viegut and Bob Ohde make a pitch for the city choosing Wausau-based developers.

Developer Bob Ohde of Ohde Construction, along with partners Mitch Viegut and Fernando Riveron, took an obvious but wise angle when they pitched themselves Tuesday night as the ones to pick up the beleaguered Riverlife project: After so much trouble with an out-of-town developer, this time the city should choose a Wausau-based one.

Even the representative from competing Milwaukee-based developer Gorman and Company was inclined to agree. “You have a local group willing to put in equity; these guys want to build this locally,” Gorman rep Ted Matkom told city officials. “With the lessons from Mike Frantz, you take the local guys and run. I know those guys. You should take it.”

Wausau’s Economic Development Committee last Tuesday night failed to take action after more than an hour in closed session, which also included talk about a third option, Dave Johnson’s proposals for high-end condos elsewhere on the Riverlife site. Economic Development Chair Tom Neal said afterward that there needed to be more discussion with the developers before a decision could be made.

The city originally awarded the Riverlife development to Frantz Community Investors, which later became just Frantz and his company Quantum Ventures. Work started then stalled on the retail and residential project along the newly revamped riverfront, because it never had the financial backing to complete. Contractor Samuels Group currently has construction liens against Quantum ventures and the city for more than $2 million of unpaid work.

Ohde’s credentials seemed uniquely suited to the project. Ohde, who resides in Wausau, has built a career on taking over troubled developments that have gone through multiple developers and bringing them to completion. And he will be joined by Wausau real estate developers Mitch Viegut and heart surgeon Dr. Fernando Riveron, who count The Reserve at Greenwood Hills among their projects.

Ohde cited 500 Station Boulevard in Aurora, Ill. as a good example of a Riverlife-like project — complete with its developer issues. The project is a high-end luxury apartment with a park-under garage. “I came into the property, and dealt with the city, architects, everyone thought ‘Oh here is [developer] No. 5 or 6 to go down the line, the next one will be coming next week,’” Ohde says. “But we completed the project; we came in and corrected everything.”

Ohde says his company has built a project similar to Riverlife in 11 months, but acknowledged the complicating “red tape,” referring to the multiple construction liens against the previous developer and now the city. Ohde says his company has the manpower and the financial backing to start the project tomorrow.

Both developers had Wausau projects to point to: Ohde built Kronenwetter’s Stoney Creek Inn and Gorman built the Kannenberg Plaza. But Ohde’s promise to use local builders seemed to convince even the Gorman rep that they were the right group for the job.