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Thomas Street project delayed by committees, council


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Wausau is not ready to move forward yet on a redesigned Thomas Street corridor. The project has been plagued by setbacks, from lost state funding to choosing the right design. The recent city hall issues with two legal opinions on the use of tax incremental financing and friction between staff hasn’t helped either.

Council President Lisa Rasmussen says she wants to see progress in rebuilding Thomas Street, but right now, they have to go over the legal opinions and take the necessary steps first.  “We need to figure out in light of recent events which legal opinion is accurate, and if there is further action that needs to be taken before we can move forward. We want to make sure that we have everything done properly and legally, and with two legal opinions now in the mix, it’s important to discern if the differences in those are material enough that we need to undertake some additional process before we move forward.”

The two different legal opinions are similar, but each presents the city with issues they must resolve before going forward.  “The ultimate outcome is close. The both say that TID funding for Thomas Street is appropriate, however, the initial opinion that we just got last Wednesday tells us that it would be necessary for us to return to the Board of Review, which includes the other taxing entities, to amend the plan and to also make sure we’ve cleared it with the Planning Commission, so that would interject some other steps into the process that haven’t been fully vetted yet.”

Thomas Street resident Chris Bargender spoke to the council, emphasising how difficult it is not knowing what to do with his house.  “I’m looking for you guys for help. In my situation, I’m in a limbo. I need an answer. I need to move on with my life. I’ve been dealing with this since I’ve moved into my house. If I would have known that this project was going to be happening, I would never have purchased the home that I’m in now.”

Rasmussen understands Bargender’s frustration with the city.  “I do feel his pain. This project’s been a long time coming, and he is a visual depiction of what many people along the Thomas Street corridor are right in the midst of. They can’t move. They’d like to, but their down payment on a new life is tied up in the home they own. They need resolution. They need closure. They can’t get it.”

Rasmussen says the city’s actions and lack of progress has been a failure to residents of that neighborhood.  “With all of the missteps that have happened in the Thomas Street corridor in the last few years, this city owes the residents of Thomas Street an apology for everything that’s happened, and we need to own our failures and find a way to move on, and help them move on. If we can do that in a positive way, and create a Thomas Street that functions and we all can afford, we’ll have a win, but it’s been a long, hard road to get there.”

The President says whatever happens next, it’s important to build Thomas Street once the right way. “The missteps along the way have led us to a point where now we’re very cautious in what we do. We need to get it right the first time. We don’t want to build it twice. We want to make sure we acquire sufficient right-of-way and we build a design that functions that will stand the test of time.”

The committees and the city council pulled the Thomas Street issue from agendas this week so they may carefully go over the legal opinions and complete all necessary steps.