Pondering the Ponderosa

For tax collection and public safety issues, Marathon County could buy the fire-damaged, shuttered Ponderosa Motel on Grand Ave.


The county might purchase the Ponderosa Motel because of public safety issues and unpaid property taxes.

Marathon County could buy the former Ponderosa Motel property in an effort to recover unpaid property taxes and get the lot back on the tax rolls. The county rarely gets into the business of cleaning up blight—that’s usually the realm of municipalities—but in this case there’s a public health consideration.

The building on Grand Avenue in Wausau has sat vacant since a fire ravaged the business in August 2015. Not much has happened on the property since. An initial county health department inspector visit revealed that the motel rooms still contained ransacked remnants of its days as a functioning motel. Photos from the inspection showed mattresses, TVs, and personal items strewn about the various rooms. A visit to the motel this week shows not much has changed.

According to County Environmental Health Sanitarian Keith Baine, all of that debris needs to be cleaned up before the building is demolished. The Ponderosa, built in 1946, is under a raze order from the city of Wausau, but the potential for environmental contamination on the site is high, health officials say.

The county’s HR, Finance and Property Committee Monday voted to conduct further environmental testing on the site before possibly taking ownership of it. Marathon County Deputy Administrator Lance Leonhard says the county could resell it to recover unpaid property taxes and get the property back on the tax rolls. The property’s unpaid tax bills go back to 2013, according to records.

The land is assessed at $105,000, and the improvements on the property are valued at $45,000, says Marathon County Treasurer Audrey Jensen.

“Hearing from the residents in District 1 (in which the Ponderosa resides) they want this to get moving,” Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger says. His office receives calls frequently from nearby residents concerned about the decaying building. “They don’t want it to just sit there.”