Wait, Wausau could have had a go-kart track?
A new summary reveals contradictions and omissions in the Wausau Center mall development process
Back in 2019, when area philanthropist leaders were selling the idea of a team-up with the city to buy the Wausau Center mall, part of their pitch was that a bunch of venture capitalists would buy the thing and let it go to waste.
It was partially for those reasons that city leaders forked over $1 million to help Wausau Opportunity Zone, or WOZ, buy the mall. (WOZ is a for-profit entity comprised of two non-profit entities, and owned by a non-profit entity — if that seems confusing, well, you’re not alone.)
According to documents included in meeting packet materials ahead of tonight’s (Tuesday’s) Committee of the Whole meeting (which also appeared in the May 24 city council packet), in which WOZ leaders will present the first development project in the mall area, companies interested in buying the mall had actual uses for it. And at least one of them sounded intriguing. That contradicts what had been stated when the project was first proposed.
Some of you might have been hoping for the next part in the Kronenwetter series. I’ve got a couple more interviews to conduct before I can write that one up, but it should be coming next weekend! Stay tuned…
In 2019 Rialto Capital, which took over the mall from CBL, announced it would sell Wausau Center in a sealed-bid process. There were multiple bidders, the documents say, but “but none presented a concept that would be appropriate for the location or added to the downtown economy. Some proposed uses were a playzone model using defunct malls, camper storage, and an indoor go-cart [sic] track.”
But who exactly decided that? Most residents would likely agree that camper storage isn’t exactly ideal or desirous parked in the middle of downtown. But a playzone area or an indoor go-kart track? I think there are at least a few taxpayers who might have found that intriguing. Or at least would have liked to have known the options available.
None of this was made clear when presented to the city council back in 2019. The choice presented to the council was this: either the city pitch in with $1 million, or these venture capitalists will, well, basically do what Rialto did: suck money from it while letting it languish.
You can see it in this video from the original joint Economic Development/Finance Committee meeting. Andy Weiner of RockStep Capital, who worked as a consultant with the foundations who wanted to buy the mall, stated that the firms interested in the mall property were asset depletion companies that would essentially buy the mall at fire sale and drain its assets dry.
That’s a lot different than what was suggested in the packet: it suggested there were firms that had actual plans for the mall. After all, those uses, assuming they’re accurate (I was told they were gathered from conversations with multiple sources), would require some investment. They just weren’t what a small inside group felt was “appropriate” for Wausau, according to those materials.
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