Wausau Mall Celebrates 30 Years

The Wausau Center mall is getting set to celebrate 30 years of doing business — and helping other businesses survive — in the heart of the city.

In the 1970s, Wausau leaders were trying to figure out what to do to save downtown as traffic and customers shifted west of the city, said Mark Craig, who was the mall’s general manager from 1996 to 2000 and now manages downtown’s Compass Properties, which owns several retail buildings near the mall.

The idea of a downtown mall was controversial — it required the demolition of several blocks of buildings, and most malls at the time were being built in suburbs and on the outskirts of cities.

“Today, it makes us unique,” said Megan Lawrence, who has been the general manager of the mall since 2009. “The fact that we can continue to be so successful when you see a lot of downtown malls across the country that really haven’t worked is a big achievement.”

A public reception with cake and punch for patrons will be held at the mall featuring a presentation on the history of the mall, historic photos, comments from Lawrence and Wausau Mayor Jim Tipple proclaiming August 2 “Wausau Center Mall Day.”

On the day the mall opened in 1983, the entire city had an even bigger celebration, with a parade through downtown and a grand opening broadcast nationally on “Good Morning America.” About 15,000 people were there that day, Lawrence said, and Wausau’s mayor at the time called it the single most important day in the history of the city.

Although a lot has changed in 30 years, several of the stores that were in the mall the day it opened remain there today, such as Maurice’s, Claire’s and J.C. Penney.

“It was an important milestone in the history of Wausau,” Lawrence said. “I think Wausau Center mall has been a catalyst in developing the vibrant downtown we have today.”

Compass Properties owns and manages most of the properties right outside the mall’s doors, such as the Third Street Lifestyle Center, which houses mixed-use retail properties, the Palladian condominiums, the Wausau visitor’s center, Washington Square, Sweet Lola’s, Polito’s Pizza, Blonde and Beyond, and more.

Craig said the success of those businesses is tied directly to the success of the mall.

"We look at it as a very symbiotic relationship,” Craig said. “We’re healthy when the mall is healthy. Keeping the mall healthy and vibrant is very important to our future and to the downtown’s future.”

Source: Wausau Daily Herald

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