As with all worthwhile projects, they almost always begin with someone’s dream. The 400 Block project in downtown Wausau is no different.
In this case, the catalysts are Dr. D. J. Freeman and his wife, Mary Clare. Lifelong residents of Wausau, the couple grew up when the block, then known as Courthouse Square, was the center of the community. But that all changed in 1954 when the courthouse was torn down and commercial property rose to stand tall in the beloved Square.
Until the early 1990s when Wausau, along with many other U.S. cities, did not escape the plight of empty, boarded-up, deteriorating buildings infecting downtown areas. That’s when the Freemans decided it was time to revive their vision of a park in the middle of the city.
After creating a courthouse square committee in 1996 and through the generosity of three men that donated some of the land on the block to the city, the project was off the ground. The buildings were razed in 2000, grass and trees were planted and benches and walkways installed.
In 2009, SquareUp, a public-private partnership, was formed to raise funds. The committee set a goal of $1 million for all the entertainment and aesthetic enhancements, to include a permanent performance stage, landscape at the seating areas, and adding a plaza and interactive water fountain. The city’s cost was $200,000 to reconstruct and upgrade the sewer, water, electrical, foundation, grading, sidewalks, curb and gutter and landscaping.
Now after years of analyzing, contemplating and discussing its merits, the project is finally moving to fruition. The 400 Block project is ready to be resurrected. Bids are due for construction of the park by Sept. 14.
And in spring 2011, families will once again be able to enjoy music, civic events and, most importantly, each other’s company in the square built on the memories of a past generation.
And it’s all thanks to Dr. D. J. and Mary Clare Freeman.
Jan Basina is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at (414) 225-1817.