How The River concert venue fell apart
The proposers of a Wausau concert venue say their data was ignored by city officials, and that The Grand's director told them he'd "bury" their project
UPDATED: This post has been updated with a response from Community Development Director Liz Brodek received after this story was published.
It seemed to come out of nowhere, and at the same time seemed like a pipe dream. A local music producer with a partner from Madison proposed building a 58,000-square-foot, 3,500-person music venue on the north side of downtown Wausau.
According to their projections, the $18.3 million venue would bring in 250,000 ticket sales per year. That seemed a bit of a stretch to people around the Wausau area. It also seemed far-fetched to The Wausonian, after analyzing data from venues around the country.
Those projections would put The River, as they were calling it, amongst the top venues in the country. Venues much larger than The River weren’t selling close to that many tickets, in much larger markets with people who have larger incomes to spend from.
Grand Theatre Director Sean Wright also pointed out the reality of those projections, and said they were unrealistic. He said they would take away shows from The Grand, and the two would sink together. He opposed putting city money into the project — The River’s founders Joe Ellis and Anna Herman were asking for $2.6 million from the city in the form of reverse tax increment financing.
City development officials seemed to come to the same conclusions. They requested that the proposers of The River pay for a feasibility study to independent verify their projections or, perhaps, to present more realistic projections.
It would have cost about $50,000 all told, according to figures provided to The Wausonian by Community Development Director Liz Brodek. The first phase would have cost $35,000, she says, so the proposers could have walked away with less cost.
They didn’t want to do that, Brodek told the city’s Economic Development Committee. And, city leaders didn’t see that it was up to taxpayers to fund the study either.
On Friday, Ellis and Herman announced in a press release that they’re walking away from the deal in Wausau. They’re still planning on building the project in central Wisconsin, somewhere, the duo says, but it won’t be in Wausau.
And on the way out, they had a few volleys for Wausau, and for Wright.