The clammy hand of consistency has long rested on my shoulder…

I decided to clean off the top of my dresser. It’s a dusty, messy, multi-day process. Some interesting things turn up, like a ticket to a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, a San Francisco cable car ticket, boarding passes to god-knows-where, foreign coins, receipts from oddball places and cryptic notes that must have meant something at the time they were scrawled out.

And then there was a clipping of a letter to the editor that I wrote in March 1997 – a bit more than a year before I first ran and won a seat on the Wausau City Council. It was during the heady, rock-throwing days of the Wausau Century project – a hotel and convention center that would have been city-owned and that I opposed vigorously (along with about two-thirds of Wausau’s voters in two separate referendums.) Looking back on what has happened to travel since 9-11 and with the Great Recession, I am more convinced than ever that Wausau Century would have been a very bad idea.

Every time I run for re-election, I pull out a list of five things that made up my original platform in 1998 to see how the performance has matched the promise. While I’ve learned a lot over the past dozen years about economic development and we’ve enjoyed some great successes in that time, I’ve tried to stay grounded and consistent. Reading my letter to the editor from 13 years ago, I still feel the same way.

* * *

Watch out for details of Century

Editor:

Your series on Wausau Century was valuable, but your editorial endorsement of the entire project seemed premature. There are reams of confidential documents from closed meetings still tucked away to protect proprietary interests. If there is a devil in the details, you could be backing “Satan in a binder.”

The experiences in Oshkosh and Eau Claire should make us wary. These cities have some things going for them, including close proximity to significant markets and the supplementary boost that comes with four-year post-secondary schools. Stevens Point’s Holidome has this same resource to draw upon. LaCrosse, a successful convention center in your series, has two.

College campuses mean a lot in terms of visitors and a large, energetic, intelligent, attractive labor pool to support the hospitality trade. Even in bad times, these higher learning institutions provide a baseline of economic activity in their communities that wouldn’t be there without them. Our post-secondary institutions here are important assets, but they’re smaller and many of the students are local commuters who don’t generate the same kind of economic activity. Perhaps most importantly, college towns tend to engender a special kind of tolerant flexibility that sometimes seems to be missing here.

We’ve recently had city alcohol licensees being attacked with Carrie Nation-like vigor and a smoking ban proposed that was weird enough to make national news. After rushing to enact the steepest room tax possible, our city council attempted to remove funding from some of the most critical visitor and tourism-building services that we currently possess.

Do these sound like people who should be leading us into the entertainment and hospitality business? Have they found the Road to Damascus? Is Wausau ready to be adventurous and laid-back enough to be truly successful at this? That’s what we’ll be betting on.

For now, the city gets this taxpayer’s support for the proposed parking structure in conjunction with the development being put together by Mr. Johnson and Mr. McNutt. We should fund that river path, too. As for the rest of the grand plan, I’d love to see us revitalize downtown – primarily for ourselves, but also for visitors. Show me the money.

JR

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