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Wausau Club offered to city, council members reluctant

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- The historic Wausau Club has been offered to the city of Wausau as a donation, but should they take it?

Wausau City Council members met after the regular meeting Tuesday as a committee of the whole to discuss the unexpected offer. Community Development Director Anne Werth explained why this came up with no advance warning. “Friday afternoon, an email came through from Mr. Schuette, and he said we’ve exhausted all possibilities for the building and we’re ready to move on. Our main goal is to remove the time commitment of owning the building eliminating future expenses.”

The offer comes with conditions. The Schuettes would like the city to decide if they want it by Wednesday and complete the transaction by the end of the month. That wasn’t possible even if the votes were there because the Committee of the Whole still has to send its recommendations to the full city council as an agenda item. The Schuettes would also like to have the remaining property taxes waived.

The Wausau Club was built by community business leaders in 1901, and was owned by the city’s Community Development Authority before Tom and Connie Schuette acquired it in 2007. Now, the Schuettes are ready to let it go with no further investment. Werth says they have already invested $2.5 million in repairs

Several council members are concerned about the amount of money it would take to make it viable again. Council President Lisa Rasmussen said she’s opposed to sitting on the building until some development comes along. “If sitting on the building was cheap, the private sector folks who have it now would continue to do it. The people that are in possession of the building are people of means, and they couldn’t make this go, and I guess that concerns me a little bit.” She added, “I’ve been told there’s no such thing as a free puppy. This is the free puppy. This is the gift that will keep on giving. It comes off the tax rolls so you’ll lose twelve thousand dollars right there. We’ll pay the legal fees for the transfer. That’s up to another five (thousand dollars.) There’s no more tax stream from the building because we own it, and all of the things that will befall it, environmental or whatever from this point, would be on our dime.” Alderman Keene Winters says if the Schuettes choices are give it to the city or let it go to public auction, he’s all for the auction. “This notion that the worst thing that could happen to it is it could go to a public auction, I think that’s the best thing that could happen to it, where we have someone who’s creative and has their own energy and can take it on, and, let’s let the public sector work here for a bit.”

Councilman David Overbeck has construction experience, and believes it is not a good idea for the city. “I don’t think the city can take on that kind of cost with the budgets that we have for renovation, so it’s not even an option.” Overbeck says anything can be done, but he doesn’t believe the city can accept that expense, and they would be better suited to use the Community Development staff to help find the right people to take on this project.

Alderman Jim Bresinski knows it will take about a million more dollars to make necessary building improvements, and he’s reluctant to put the city on the hook for that cost. “It’s a wonderful building with a great history, and very rarely do I find an old building that I don’t like, but I have to agree with Lisa (Rasmussen). I think this is the quintessential money pit.”Bill Nagle understands the cost of renovating the Wausau Club, and the potential cost of demolishing it, but believes the city would benefit from having this prime piece of real estate with no environmental problems. “I’m looking less at the condition of the building, and more at costs are minimal to own it, demolition costs are high, but then I’m going to have one heck of a piece of property that everyone’s going to be fighting over to get to and own, and so, I’m kind of leaning toward taking title.”

The committee voted 6-2 with two absent to forward the proposal to the full city council, with some members saying they intend to vote against it.

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