Final results: Most Wausonians pessimistic about Wausau mall redevelopment project
Now with a few more details
I have larger stories in the pipeline that you will be seeing soon, but I wanted to share the results of a reader poll I conducted recently of the Wausonian audience, plus a small update.
For those who haven’t been following along, The Wausonian published a piece about how the first Wausau mall redevelopment project has been delayed until next year. The official reason was that investors needed more time to make a decision on the project.
From speaking with investors in Wausau who were approached to invest in the project, it sounds like the decisions wasn’t too hard. Insiders tell The Wausonian there wasn’t too much interest in investing in the project. Also, the timing seemed suspicious. Investors were being sought out this spring, as the project’s groundbreaking at least had been imminent.
Terrance Wall never did respond to my questions about all this.
In an email sent to city council leaders, WOZ President Dave Eckmann shared more details:
Precipitating this requested extension are the increased cost of construction materials, escalating interest rates, and extended time investors require to make financial decisions in the current economy.
The first project of an entire new development will be risky. And with T. Wall’s history with the city, many worried if the project would ultimately happen, and if so, when.
The survey results
Since The Wausonian has been accused of being pessimistic, I wanted to reach out to see what our readers thought. I conducted two polls: one of the Facebook group, and another on these pages.
The results were pretty lopsided on here. 41% of people were pessimistic, and another 21% were very pessimistic, making 62% on the negative side. Only 15% were optimistic or very optimistic (1% were very optimistic). 23% were neutral. A total of 71 people voted.
Interestingly, people were more optimistic on The Wausonian’s Facebook group. There, 48% were optimistic, and another 4% were very optimistic. 40% were skeptical and 4% were very skeptical. Another 4% were neutral.
But that one only had 25 votes.
As you might imagine, the comments on both the Facebook group and the post grew a bit heated. I decided to highlight what two council members said about the prokect.
City Council Member Lisa Rasmussen had some pretty balanced comments about optimism for the mall project as well as the new streets and Children’s Imaginarium, but caution that the council wouldn’t likely have much patience for too many delays. I decided to share her comments here since she also allowed me to include them as part of my City Pages story on this:
I believe the project will proceed following the delay, but in the interim, the temporary street project, based on the Toole plan that was done prior, the facade work on HOM Furniture and the Children’s Imaginarium are moving ahead. If I had to guess, I would also say that WOZ, and T Wall are clear that the council’s patience for more than one extension or more money is likely just not there. Of course, people can understand that the cost of materials, labor and interest rates are certainly way up this year, but we also want progress and new tax base there, and if that isn’t happening, the conversation will certainly need to shift to what, or who will be able to get to the place where we are achieving the goals. The key to generating traffic downtown in an environment where less people now need to spend every day in an office to do their work, is increasing the number of people who live down there, vs work down there. If we want to attract higher paying employers to create jobs here, there has to be skilled employees to fill them and places for them to live and recreate when they are not at work. This is why so many of the things cities, counties, business leaders and schools do are interrelated. There is a demand for units in the downtown area, and some of the newer ones are full or have wait lists, so there is certainly a market for it, in a mix of different age groups. While I think the delay is disappointing, I also don’t think it is a reason to make too many negative assumptions until we know more.
City Council Member Tom Kilian had a much more pointed response to the delays and the city’s involvement in the project. Kilian is the council member for the district the mall used to reside in:
This delay again shows that it is a risky proposition for the City to serve as the ATM for private sector development, ultimately dispensing millions for luxury development that currently has insufficient backing from private dollars. It feels like the City did not fully learn from the Frantz Riverlife debacle, and I hope that this project does not turn into another painful tutorial on why spending taxpayer dollars on elective decadence is a bad idea.
Anyway, I wanted to get a sense of the feelings of my readership. When city money is involved, that’s where journalists ought to be paying attention and shining a light on what is going on.
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