New concert venue a “tough sell” for some to bring to Wausau

New concert venue proposed for downtown Wausau
New concert venue proposed for downtown Wausau(VY Properties, LLC)
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 9:00 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wausau’s Economic Development Committee heard plans Tuesday night from developers hoping to build a new concert venue on Wausau’s riverfront.

The River is a 58,000-square-foot project by VY Properties that has the potential to bring in 250,000 people and $53 million annually to the city, was met with mixed reactions during Tuesday’s meeting in Wausau.

Executive Director of The Grand Theater, Sean Wright, said, “This is not the right time. It would be horrible to have something happen to The Grand because this pipe dream of a venue is supported.”

The committee agreed that the venue will need to go through continued discussions before being voted on, much less approved to be built in Wausau.

Former economic development council member Tom Neal said what is being asked of the city for the project makes it a tough sell. He added that building a venue that is smaller or less costly could serve as a better alternative to what is currently being proposed.

Joe Ellis, co-owner of VY Properties, said their goal is to get people to come to the Wausau area and stay long-term. He said one ongoing threat to Wausau’s overall market is that the younger generation is moving to larger, metropolitan areas such as Milwaukee and Madison where those events and venues are close by.

Location and parking accommodations were lightly brought up in the meeting. Both would need to be agreed upon by multiple parties. Developers are hoping that a partnership solution can be made for parking to be used in a multitude of ways for not just The River, but also for Woodchucks games and general use.

“We would very much like to be partners with the city to make sure this venue, which would be an economic boom, goes in at the right place at the right time,” Ellis added. “This $53 million we are bringing to the economy is already being spent, it’s just not being spent in Wausau.”

They also expect to give 5% of all proceeds to local charities in an effort to give back to the community. Additionally, The River would pay the city a $7 million property tax fee every year for 20 years.

The River Rendering
The River Rendering(VY Properties)

More accurate costs and what it will take to bring the venue to the city were highlighted in the packet including an anticipated cost to build the venue at around $18.3 million.

Ellis said VY Properties would be bringing $5 million of its own money to the table already. Another $2.6 million would be funded by the city through a Reverse TID, a form of funding that comes from property tax credits. A negotiated, up-front cash payment will be made by the city, but it is unclear what that amount will be.

“When you have multiple venues for things that all support a similar cause, I think everyone involved can benefit from that,” said Alderperson Lisa Rasmussen.

In a letter to the city, VY Properties said in addition to the live entertainment, the state-of-the-art venue would allow Wausau to host large-format corporate conferences and will be home to additional retail and dining experiences on the riverfront.

The developers have a goal to complete the venue and be open around Labor Day of 2024.

Committee members and those in attendance agreed it’s a fairly aggressive timeline, but VY Properties is hoping it gets done sooner than later before someone else moves a venue similar to The River to a location and market outside of Wausau.

Members of the council also mentioned that going forward at a slower pace and looking towards a build and completion timeline of 2025 or later would allow everyone involved to thoroughly plan out the details of the project. It also could see lower costs as current inflation rates have caused prices for materials and labor to rise.

Before adjourning, committee members moved to direct the developers and staff involved to continue discussions about the project and continue to finalize more specific aspects of the proposed plan.

For more information about the project, visit