We keep hearing noise out of various quarters about how we want to make Wausau a more exciting, vibrant — that is to say, cooler, city. I can pretty much assure you, that this is not going to help. Basically the article says that McDevCo is looking at properties on Scott Street, including the Scott Street Pub, Dwellers and Psychadelic Wonders. And why do they want to the property? Well, there has to be a parking garage somewhere for the Dudley.
So, as the Herald puts it, "Soon it might be tough to get a drink, pick up incense or buy a skateboard on the 100 block of Scott Street in downtown Wausau." Sigh. Those are exactly the kinds of activities that make a downtown cool, not yet another parking garage and office building.
Now, of course, the city fathers cannot help that the owner of the Pub is having financial trouble. It may also be true that Dwellers would do much better out by Rib Mountain, closer to their customers. But it sure seems to me that things are heading in the wrong direction.
There is, of course, a tremendous chicken and egg kind of question when it comes to downtown development. How do you create an exciting, vibrant downtown when most people have a suburban mall mentality? In other words, how do you lure the people back to the city center? One theory, that the city seems to be using is to make downtown more "suburban." Office buildings, lots of parking and next, Red Lobster, to bring in hoi polloi. Maybe.
The other way, which Wausau also does try, but with not as much enthusiasm, is to make the city center more urban, and hip. Encouraging small businesses, unique shops and a unique downtown experience. To be fair, the city has done some of these things. The greenspace of the 400 block, the renovation funds that Shepard and Schaller and others have taken advantage of and so on, have been good steps.
But the city then seems to undercut its own efforts in those directions, by doing things like eliminating the pedestrian mall and handing over the unique environment of the riverfront to stacks of cubicles.
Personally, obviously, I lean towards greater urbanism. Larger pedestrian malls, more shops and so on. And no matter what facilities and plans exist for the space downtown, if you build it and the people don't come, then what? Maybe it is true, as some people have complained, that Wausau isn't hip enough for a exciting downtown. Maybe.
What do you think? Is bringing people downtown to work the way to save it? Has car culture gone to far to have a vibrant downtown? Or is downtown actually working now, and is cool and hip and on the way to putting Wausau "on the map?" Let us know what you think.