Making Wausau a Cooler Place

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.

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15 responses to “Making Wausau a Cooler Place

  1. To really help out the downtown, the shops need to be open later than 5:00! Even during Christmas shopping last year I had trouble going after work because everything was closed by 6:00, with a few exceptions. The shops that stayed open later to accomodate receive my shopping dollars. Even some of the most popular stores in the area refuse to stay open later than 6:00- very frustrating! Even during downtown events which draw large crowds, many of the stores do not stay open.

    The joy of downtowns should be boutique shops and local restaurants- not more office spaces, national chains and parking lots that can be seen in any city. When I explore other downtowns I want to see the local flavor. It is what people look for- it is what makes it fun to visit.

    Give me the ability to come downtown after work, stroll through shops, enjoy a shaved ice from Chip’s Wagon and I will be there- with wallet in hand! I like to stroll through downtown but find it hard to spend my money very often- and I do try!

    Chris

  2. Oh-I do wish some places would be open later too. My favorite downtown shop is the Standing Ovations Consignment store. I stop in a few times a week. . . .

  3. I agree 100% that not being open late is a killer to local businesses, whether downtown or not. If you work all day, and then go home to get some dinner before heading out, Mega-Mart is the only place left open. I do also feel for local business owners who feel that need to be present to provide the kind of service that makes their business unique, and doesn't just want to hire a couple of highschool kids to "tend the till" during the evening hours. It is a very deep seated problem.

    Unfortunately the solution has to be unified, in that for it to be effective, ALL of the downtown businesses need longer hours. If just one or two do it, it will not draw enough customers to pay the greater labor costs. Sigh. I have often thought that maybe locals should try business hours something like 12 noon to 8 pm. Very European — or at least that is the way I would try and sell it. 🙂

  4. I think the building of the Dudley Building and the Wausau Benefits building is the best start that we can have for the city. We lament this or that, but ultimately what should the cities roll be in helping downtown?

    Should the City of Wausau give tax breaks to local people who want to set up shop downtown?

    They did not do that with Dwellers, and Jason Garvey succeeded just fine.

    Should the City of Wausau offer funds to businesses looking to remodel there storefronts?

    They did in the case of the Shephard and Schallers building. Funds still exist in that pot, but no one goes for them. I wonder why that is?

    What is our small town governments role in developing downtown? We would all be up at arms if they gave funds to Evolutions in Design for this or that expansion…yet we lament when businesses run there course.

    I question this…what should our governments role be in downtown development?

    I also want to point out that the Wausau Benefits Building, the Dudley Building, and the MCDEVCO group are all privately funded projects requiring none of our tax dollars.

  5. Ummm…if the Dudley building required "none of our tax dollars," then what was this in the Ocotber 6, 2005 Wausau Herald: "Mayor Jim Tipple on Wednesday called the city's $2 million investment in infrastructure for The Dudley Bros. Building 'an outstanding deal.' The city will borrow the money mainly to purchase land for parking, build a parking lot and provide utilities for the $15 million project"?  Considering the rate of return on most investments now, to have the city kick in 13% to make this work sure was sweet. I have not finished digging yet, but I think we can be relatively sure that $2 mil will not be the final bottom line the city "invests" in the project.

    Now, the mayor can call those (borrowed, so we pay twice!) tax dollars an "investment," but they are still tax dollars. I think it is appropriate and necessary that governments "invest" in projects, whether it be infrastructure for a building or public broadcasting. The question is what kind of assistance is to be made to what project and in what amount.

    It is my personal opinion that the two office buildings on the riverfront were misguided investments of city development efforts. Not only are we just moving cubicles around (See the Feb. 4, 2006 Herald article, "Offices vie for tenants") but those developments (if they were needed) could possibly have been sited differently so that a more community oriented development of the riverfront would have been possible. Now the city is continuing a nice idea along the riverfront, but you have to wonder how much progress could have been made if tax dollars were not going to subsidize office buildings. It is also interesting that the city is essentially begging for donations for the Riverfront project, which is a clear benefit to all of the public, and borrows milliions of dollars up front to help developers.

  6. Mayor Tipple said it was for Utilities. Like water, and electricity, and waste removal.

    Did those things exist before hand in that space? Was anything ever built there?

    I like the buildings. I like bringing people downtown to work. I beleive retail or community space will follow.

    What should have been put there? Were lamenting the existence of these projects, but the block where the big ramp is now, that was clearly a blighted block. Dwellers left there to move accross the street.

    Rockwater was a standout, as was Als Books. But the increase in parking spaces is a good thing. It allows for people to park on Saturday and walk around.

    What should go there? Specifically?

    What should be done? What is a solution?

  7. That’a where the Second Tower for Dudley Brother’s will go. Of course in five years, we’ll see the City Father’s wringing their hands wondering how they are going to fill all of the vacant office buildings downtown.

    In all honesty – you can slice it many ways, and we’d all be right.

    More Offices do bring better Tax dollars. Better attractions and entertainment brings more foot traffic and supports local business owners. Money either way – it’s just a matter of who has the deeper pockets to get it rolling.

    In this case, it’ll be office space.

  8. I say again…is it the city fathers job to fill these office spaces?

    Is it not Mr Dudleys building?

    My mom owns apartments in Weston, and I dont recall the Town of Weston ever helping us fill spots.

  9. Pingback: The Wausau Word » Local and State News Links - June 13, 2006

  10. I can understand removing the dwellers building, and replacing it with something a little more fitting in the same location, when I look at the building it seems out of place because it is the shortest building, but I don’t think that the Scott Street Steak and Pub building should be demolished or removed, the building is 3 floors, and it has a lot of potential. What the building needs is a new owner who is committed to using and repairing all the space that currently exists in the building. If the 7 apartments were rebuilt on the top floors, and were rented out for $500/month, the income would be around $42,000 a year, which could be used for property tax, upkeep, repairs, and improvements. Combine that with a successful storefront, or restaurant on the first floor, and another downtown success story occurs.

    While I think that McDevco is trying to acquire all the property on the block, I doubt they will raze all the buildings. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think that the newspaper article only told half the truth. The dwellers property might be razed, but I do not think that the city is actually so short on spaces that the other buildings would also be torn down unless McDevco is unable to find a suitable tenant/owner for the buildings, and they think that a developer will become more interested with a vacant lot, and even then they probably wont demolish until they have a development agreement in their hands.

  11. Matthew, the third floor of the Scott Street Pub was never replaced after the fire.

    There are two floors.

  12. I know that the Emporium building is definitely being torn down, as they have already gutted most of it from the inside.

    I want to know what people want to do about these issues. It seems that there’s a group that wants to make their voice heard. Is there anybody that’s willing to join me at planning commission meetings to raise these issues when it matters most? Do you need a permit to tear a building down?

    Or is there some other (better) course of action to protect the historic nature of Wausau while ensuring its economic vitality?

  13. Then I am going to assume that a restoration of the Scott Street Building to give it a third floor would be rather expensive, and probally cost as much as rebuilding the entire building, but it would still be nice if the original facades were kept as well as some of the other historic parts of the buildings (I want the front door of the Emporium)

  14. Bill I like your perspective here. Downtown Wausau is looking more and more like dowtntown St. Paul about an hour after a concert lets out at the Fitzgerald- ghostly. But jeez, there’s architecture in those buildings and skywalks I suppose. GAG.

  15. What’s cool in Wausau??? The variety of activities taking place on the 400 block downtown. We went from Andy Zynda and the Spankin’ Monkees on Friday night to South Beach Up North chamber music on Saturday. The diversity of participants was amazing to see. Mother Nature even cooperated by holding off the Saturday storm untill the concert was over.

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