WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) — In November of 2020, the Wausau City Council approved a $4.7 million proposal for the Wausau Center Mall redevelopment project.
As spring of 2021 carried on, Wausau Center's closure became reality.
"The last three years we really saw it unravel," Mark Craig said.
Former mall manager Mark Craig says the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the closure.
"Instead of 18 months from now, it closed earlier, right?" Craig said.
Craig and others have varying feelings as they watch the mall go.
"As I watch the demolition of Sears and the demolition of the rest of the center it's mixed emotions," Craig said.
"I'm not surprised. I guess what it is is the sands of time and it was such an integral part of Wausau and now it isn't," former News 9 anchor Beth Zerbuchen said.
"It is tough. You know mother worked there in the information booth area and my son. One of his first jobs was there working at sears," John said.
"Kind of bittersweet to see an establishment being torn down but there really wasn't an option," Jim Tipple. "Either board it up or come up with a new idea. I'm excited about the new idea."
"I guess I wouldn't say that I'm sad. It's interesting, you know. Things do change," Mayor Katie Rosenberg said.
That change is in the early stages.
"We will see by Labor Day the site cleared and ready for development," Craig said. "I think the next step will be to select a developer to help us do that first phase or residential."
Mark Craig is now a part the Wausau Opportunity Zone. A group leading the redevelopment efforts of the former mall space.
"So behind me you'll see 3rd street enter towards HOM furniture and exit on Jackson Street," Craig said. "That'll be 2-way traffic with parking on the street. This year alone we'll see Washington street transform into 2-way traffic with parking and that should happen sometime by late October."
They plan to begin overall redevelopment of the area next year.
It'll follow a national trend of mixed use space, it's intended to keep the downtown vibrant.
"It's ironic, of course, because what's old is new again," Zerbuchen said. "However i'm sure that the structure that they're putting up will be some kind of retail with apartments and condos above, which you find everywhere."
In the meantime, nearby downtown businesses continue on.
"I think there's optimism that the new development will bring more people downtown and hopefully create additional opportunities for the existing businesses," John said.
"And our main street has really been pulling that anchor status that the mall had in the past.," Mayor Rosenberg said. "So, I think we're going to be ok. I'm excited about what we're going to see. Obviously the city is invested in both resources and time and it's just going to be a big, big part of our identity moving forward. So, we want to make sure it's right for everyone."