Wausau area chosen for Olympic-level sports complex

(First published in the May 10, 2018 issue of City Pages)

A proposed project could house recreational athletics, entertainment, competitions and athlete training


Val Belmonte, CEO-President of US Sports Development group: “I think Wausau could be the Midwest Lake Placid of winter sports.”

Wausau area amateur athletes could soon be rubbing elbows with Olympic and international competitors if a Chicago-based company’s concept for a multi-purpose sports complex comes to fruition.

Marathon County has been chosen by the nonprofit U.S. Sports Development Group as a site to develop a multi-purpose complex that could include international competition, concerts and conventions.

U.S. Sport’s mission is to help promote amateur sports growth and development, says CEO-President Val Belmonte. U.S. Sports has two facilities in development in Indiana but Marathon County’s would be unique as their first to include a major focus on winter sports.

The Wausau area’s selection for the potential facility will be announced tonight, Thursday May 10, at the 2018 Tourism Impact Award Dinner, says MCDEVCO Executive Director Jim Warsaw. Warsaw and Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Dick Barrett first pitched the area as a potential site to US Sports in January. Marathon County was placed on a shortlist of potential sites in February.

U.S. Sports chose Wausau because of its unique amenities—Granite Peak Ski Area, Nine Mile’s cross country ski trails, and the curling club facility, for example. Of the six Midwest states the group toured, company representatives were most impressed with the Wausau area, Belmonte says.

Being centrally located in the state and easily accessible makes Marathon County the perfect site for a potential sports complex, Belmonte says. Existing facilities would complement the complex. “This is just my opinion right now, but I think Wausau could be the Midwest Lake Placid of winter sports,” Belmonte says.

So far, the sports complex is only a concept. After selecting Marathon County, U.S. Sports will spend 10 months completing marketing studies and community outreach, including focus groups, to find out what would work best for the area, Belmonte says. That will also include where such a potential facility would be located within Marathon County. U.S. Sports wants to make sure what the complex offers complements what is already here, instead of competing with existing facilities, Belmonte says.

US Sports would also apply for status as an Olympic Training Center, which could bring Olympic hopefuls to the area. US Sports would then hold international level competition in Marathon County, Belmonte says.

The complex would be different than, say, the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, which sits empty much of the time when the Bucks basketball team isn’t playing.

“We want it to be approachable,” Belmonte says. “We want the community to have a sense of ownership of the facility. We want it to be part of the fabric of the community.”