Work begins on Rapids Theater Block demolition
For the Rapids City Times
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – Work has started in downtown Wisconsin Rapids to remove four vacant buildings in what has been known as “the Theater Block,” an area bounded by West Grand, Second, and Third avenues and Johnson Street.
The four buildings formerly housed Book World, Book Nook, Church’s Drugstore, and the Cultural Center. All four buildings are owned by the Mead Witter Foundation, Inc., and costs of the project are being underwritten by the Foundation. No specific plans are identified for the cleared spaces on the Theater Block at this time, according to foundation officers.
Continuing a decades-long effort to help revitalize the downtown area, since the 1990s, the Mead Witter Foundation has purchased properties in the Theater Block when owners have offered them for sale.
In 2015 the foundation also purchased the then vacant, former Consolidated Papers River Block Building and adjacent property. Subsequently, the Mead Witter Foundation entered an agreement with Wood County for the building. The entirely renovated 75,000-square-foot office building now serves as county offices where hundreds of citizens visit and employees work every day, thereby bringing much increased activity into the downtown area.
The Mead Witter Foundation, formerly the Consolidated Papers Foundation, and Consolidated Papers, Inc., have worked with numerous mayors and scores of city council members over several decades to make improvements in the downtown area, foundation officers said. The Foundation expects that the current project will be advancement toward that goal. The Mead Witter Foundation pays real estate taxes on all of its properties within the downtown area and privately maintains all of its park property offered for public use.
Consolidated Papers was a resident and the major property owner downtown for more than a century. For efficiency, in the late 1970s the paper company brought most of its administrative departments together in a single building, its River Block headquarters. In the 1990s the Company recognized a need to rejuvenate and beautify the deteriorating Theater Block.
All of the buildings currently scheduled for removal have irreparable structural deficiencies and are at the end of their functional life. The vacation of the Cultural Center from the old Palace Theater building in October 2017 and the purchase of the Book World building in 2018, made it possible to raze the buildings efficiently, according to a Foundation spokesperson.
Organized in 1951, the Mead Witter Foundation, Inc., is a private philanthropic foundation. It has provided more than $93 million in support to colleges, universities, environmental causes, civic organizations and in scholarship support to area students.