The city of Wausau has an 88-year-old building in the heart of downtown that has been unused since 2004. But there are plans to bring it back to life and enhance the downtown experience.
Oct. 18 was the deadline for submitting proposals to rejuvenate the building — and four developers responded.
The Wausau Federal Building, 317 N. First St., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a well preserved local example of Art Deco style that was built in 1938.
When the federal government turned this building over to the city for $1, it applied certain restrictions, one of which affects the site-specific artwork in the entrance lobby. It cannot be altered or removed in anyway. The artwork is considered part of the historic fabric of the building and shall remain in its current location.
There is an interesting story behind this artwork: “During the Depression years 1933-1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Art Programs launched public support for unemployed artists. Several opportunities were created, such as the Public Works Art Project (PWAP) and subsequent Section of Painting and Sculpture in the Treasury Department, Federal programs that provided employment for artists. Competitions were held for post office and courthouse murals throughout Wisconsin and beyond.
“Later, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) offered enhancement for public buildings, the city’s schools and hospitals. Thanks to the United States Treasury Department competition, quite a number of commissions were won by Sinclair and his colleagues: Santos Zingale, Charles Thwaites, Edmund Lewandowski, Peter Rotier, Schomer Lichtner, Ruth Grotenrath, all preeminent Wisconsin artists.”
Here are the four proposals under consideration:
• Jefferson Street Inn Gateway Center submitted by Inn Development Management Group of Wausau: this is a proposed conference hall with extended stay luxury suites, and retail/office space;
• Museum with Gift Shop submitted by Wausau Wonder Works Museum (a team consisting of three partners from Wausau and one from Naperville, Ill.). Proposed as a hands-on educational experience in science, technology and regional history for kids young and old;
• 40 Market-Rate Apartments submitted by Horizon Management Group, La Crosse. They are proposing 20 of the apartments for the existing federal building, 20 more in a new building to be built to the east, plus the construction of an enclosed parking garage for 45 cars;
• 21 Artist Lofts submitted by MetroPlains, St. Paul, Minn. This development would use parking that’s already available in the area. Plus they would consider using “zip car” or “hour car” shared transportation options.
The city is moving quickly –- interviews are scheduled for Monday and the final decision is expected by Dec. 9.
Best of luck to the decision makers!
Ann Knoedler is the lead data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She has a fifth redevelopment plan for the federal building, but that’s another blog.