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Wausau considering mall assistance, rent moratorium

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Wausau Center Mall
Wausau Center Mall

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Wausau city officials are considering measures that would provide financial assistance to the Wausau Center Mall. With Penney’s closing, and some other empty storefronts, CBL Properties is hoping Wausau will forgo a year’s worth of rent payments and fees to the city starting next month.

Mayor Jim Tipple says the economy combined with other issues makes the mall business difficult in recent years.  “City malls have historically struggled in a lot of cities. Stevens Point is a classic example, also in Green Bay. Milwaukee just recently helped out their city mall downtown with some developer money to keep that mall running and being vibrant.”

The Wausau Center Mall structure is owned and operated by CBL Properties, but Tipple says they rent the real estate.  “We own the land. A lot of people don’t know it, but we have a ground lease, and so what we’re saying is that we would forgive that for a period of time.”

Forgiving that ground lease and other fees would allow CBL to keep about 146-thousand dollars.

Tipple says the city needs to work with the mall to keep them operating and viable. Some ideas have been discussed.  “Really, what we want to do is be a partner with them and help re-purpose the mall, whether there would be a theatre in there, whether there would be a new anchor (store). A lot of times with malls, we’ve said you’ve got to have four anchors, and we’re experiencing some weak retail economic activity, and so we need to be a partner, as we always have been with the mall, and help them out through these economic tough times.”

The city of Wausau has invested in property developments including the mall before. Tipple says several years went by where the city benefited from the mall and surrounding developments.  “The mall was the catalyst for our downtown many years ago in 1983, as I mentioned, that we didn’t really do a lot of care and feeding into it, and then the late 90’s, we realized there were a lot of storefronts that were empty, and so we started to take notice of that, and so the last fourteen years or so, the city has put some time, effort, and money into our downtown. If you want to have a successful town, it starts with a first-class downtown.”

The plan still needs full city council approval. The city’s Finance and Economic Development committees both unanimously recommended the proposal Tuesday.

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