Citizen Wausau

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Say No to the Wausau Club

by on November 18th, 2013

It is my hope that the Wausau City Council says, “No, thank you, we couldn’t possibly,” to the gift from the Schuette family.  The Schuette family is graciously offering to give the City of Wausau one of its our truly historic sites, I think I read that they are willing to give us this property for free even.  And I think we should say no.  I say, look a gift horse in the mouth, and then tell the cowboy to peddle his wares someplace else, because this horse has bad teeth.

I am sure I will be in the minority here.  Or rather, the majority that agrees with me will not care enough to say anything, and the minority who have a romantic, sentimental attachment to this old exclusive, private club will speak up in support of the club.  And speak up with rich white people voices.

How about if we start with an objective retelling of what the Wausau Club was, shall we?  It was a private, exclusive club that chances are you could not be a member of.  Nothing inherently wrong with that, but it is not like historically this was Storefront School, or the Boys and Girls Club.  This was a gathering place of the wealthy in our community, and what they did behind those doors, well, that was private (wink).

So let us fast forward to now.  The building, as historic as it is, is a wreck.  I was lucky enough to see some photos this week from a private citizen, who showed me from a private collection.  The reporting about the roughness of the space, that is true.  It is a bit of a shambles inside.  It does not look like a historic private club; it looks like a construction site.

The scuttlebutt around city hall is that everything is broken and outside of stability.  From the HVAC system, the foundation, the electrical, the plumbing … all of it outdated and out of code.  The other bit is that the taxes on the property are 12 grand a year, with no income coming from it.  So, it is a negative on the Schuette family balance sheet.

We should say no to the Wausau Club gift because we can.  We can as a city say no to donations, especially donations that will create a negative impact on our taxpayer funded balance sheet.  By any accounting, the gift to the city takes the tax burden off the current owner, and takes that tax money off our annual budget sheet.  Then, there is the issue of the repair.  If we accept ownership of this property with an eye for development, we simply would have to get the building to some baseline of code to even consider development.

The City was saddled with the Federal Building for what seemed like decades.  Developers came and went.  And the burden on the taxpayer was consistent year in and year out.  With no end in sight.  And the real estate market was completely different then, it is much worse these days.

The city needs to look at this like any other asset.  Is it negative, positive, toxic?  It is a toxic asset in my opinion; it simply does not do anything other than suck all of the other items on the asset sheet down, pulling resources away from the ones that are positive.  City crews will be redirected to work on this, construction dollars will be spent on this, the city will be acquiring a liability.

I understand the argument for taking this coming from Councilman Nagle is that this is a historic part of Wausau, and should be protected.  Sure.  If the City of Wausau was flush with cash, turning away development projects, and employers, and not facing the outcome of Act 10.  Sure, of course we should take it on if we were bucks up.  But, we are not.  The city faces real financial and structural hardships in the next decade.  Adding to a burden, while a kind payout to a by gone era and a family that helped build our town … this is not a solid plan.

I want to advocate strongly that the city thank the Schuette family for the kind offer of a brokedown historic building, but the city should pass.  Like I said, I get that we need to pay attention to our history, that is fine.  Then maybe the Schuettes could donate to the Historic Society, and they can take on the task of rebuilding the old house back to its private, exclusive club glory.  But, the City should not be in the business of taking on toxic assets, no matter who offers them, despite how historic they are.

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