(First published in the April 4, 2019 issue of City Pages)
But there’s skepticism about Lokre’s proposal on the vacant downtown space. Also, Mountain Lanes bowling to become apartments?
Lokre Development wants to buy the vacant, city-owned Sears building next to the mall, but can’t say for what purpose
Lokre Development Company made two proposals to Wausau city officials Tuesday. One was a solid plan to turn the troubled Mountain Lanes into a high-end residential complex and office building with underground parking. That one got the Economic Development Committee’s early approval.
The other proposal was to buy the empty Sears building downtown and do… well, not even Lokre is sure what yet.
Lokre has offered to buy the downtown building attached to the mall for $700,000, according to an offer to purchase. The offer, which does not include any specific plan for the property, also requests a 9% TIF funding on total project costs, shared use of the mall parking ramp (which is owned by the city), and that the city reface the mall-connected wall if Wausau Center is ever torn down.
A lack of any specific plan for the building rankled some members of the committee. Council President and committee member Lisa Rasmussen said in her 11 years on council, she’d never seen a developer propose terms to buy a property from the city to include tax incentives without an actual plan, and asked how they could justify that to taxpayers. “If the 10 pm news tonight says the city takes the first steps in selling off Sears and someone says, ‘Well what will it be?’ what do I look like if I say, ‘Oh I don’t know, but I’m sure it will be nice.’”
When Sears closed, the city bought the building in 2016 for $650,000 with the intent of repurposing it. The city worked with Eau Claire-based Micon Cinemas, which planned to install a modern movie theater in the building. That plan and a few subsequent attempts fell through over disagreements with the mall owner on the wall between Sears and Wausau Center. Sources say the disagreement stems from the property line not matching up with the wall separating the two.
Lokre representative Victor Anderson told the committee Lokre would need the 270 days due diligence period to determine a use for the property. Anderson says the building could see any number of uses, including new retail, residential, or mixed use. Lokre could take out the center for a courtyard surrounded by residential units. Or it could end up simply being razed.
The property has seen interest from other developers too, says Community Development Director Chris Schock.
Rasmussen says the city bought the Sears property to ensure it would see the best and highest use for the city, and said she wouldn’t support turning it over to a developer until there is a plan.
Less controversial is the project to redevelop the Mountain Lanes site —the building has been unused for many months. The project would see the former bowling alley overlooking 17thAvenue turned into 58 one and two bedroom apartments, along with an 8,000-square foot medical office. Lokre is asking the city for roughly $600,000 in incentives for the $7.5 million project. The apartments will rent for $950 and $1,350.