Wausau Center has a new owner and management company and, the city hopes, some new plans to go along with it. Plus, the redevelopment shouldn't cost taxpayers, city officials say.
Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke announced Tuesday that the new mall owners, Miami-based Rialto Capital Management, has hired Mid-America Asset Management of Milwaukee to run the day-to-day operations of the mall.
That news comes after a deal fell through earlier this year in which the city would lend former mall owner CBL $4.1 million to move Younkers from its current location to the former J.C. Penney’s space in order to facilitate a renovation of the mall. After the city signed the deal in February, months went by without word from CBL. Later it was revealed that the company was under a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. Mielke says he doesn’t know if Mid-America will reach a similar deal to move Younkers, but said any redevelopment would not likely involve much in the form of taxpayer dollars.
Mid-America manages dozens of malls, shopping centers and other businesses in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest, including shops in Wisconsin Rapids, Madison, Appleton and Green Bay.
Downtown Wausau advocate and Compass Properties manager Mark Craig, who once managed Wausau Center, praised Rialto for hiring Mid-America rather than selling. "Rialto could have sold the property for 30¢ on the dollar, but I think they decided, why not hire a management company to turn the mall around instead," Craig says. "I think its a wise step for them and for the city."
CBL in recent weeks repaid more than $33,000 in money owed to the city, says Wausau’s interim Community Planning and Economic Development Director Christian Schock. Original estimates put that amount closer to $90,000, but CBL overpaid in 2013 and 2014, according to an audit.
The payment means CBL is completely out of the picture, Mayor Robert Mielke says, and city hall should have no reason for further dealings with the company.
The recently-vacated Sears wing is a separate property, which the city of Wausau is finalizing a deal to purchase. Mielke wouldn’t disclose the exact selling price but insists that the city will get “a realistic, decent price.”
City ownership essentially would act as a hold on the valuable real estate, so the city has some control over what goes there, Mielke says. Rumors are swirling about a movie theater going into the former Sears space, but the mayor declined to offer specifics. The city will request proposals from developers for renovating the space after acquiring it.
The final deal to buy the Sears building should come up for a city council vote this month, Mielke says. City staff have been keeping council members informed about the process through closed session meetings. “If everything goes right, there are some good things coming,” Mielke says.