Elizabeth Brodek leaves Wausau River District after years of downtown revitalization

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By:  Laura Schulte, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

She brought a little more color, fun and excitement to downtown Wausau over the past three years, but Elizabeth Brodek's time in the city is coming to an end. 

Brodek, executive director of the Wausau River District, will leave her position on March 9 to become promotions and communications coordinator for the city of Eau Claire. Blake Opal-Wahoske, who is currently the assistant director will serve as interim director while the River District board looks for someone to fill the spot according to a press release from the organization.

The Wausau River District is a nonprofit organization that advocates for downtown businesses and organizations that make Wausau an appealing place to live in. The organization also helps to plan events highlighting the downtown area and all it has to offer. It's partially privately funded, and partially funded by the Business Improvement District. 

The board expects to hire a new director within 30 days, said president Joseph Mella.

"We're going to carry on the initiatives that have been implemented," Mella said. "But we're looking forward to the next chapter for the River District." 

Brodek started at the River District in December 2014, working to bring downtown businesses together and to plan events that bring the community into the central shopping district. The Wausau Daily Herald and United Way of Marathon County named Brodek one of their top "20 Under 40' honorees, and the Daily Herald identified her as a Person of the Year in 2017.

Her work in Wausau also has been honored by the National Main Street organization, which has nominated the community multiple times for its Great American Main Street Award. 

During her time as director, the Wausau River District has added programs such as First Thursdays, which brings visitors downtown for an evening of food and entertainment the first Thursday of each month during the summer; Downtown Dining Week, which creates a price-fixed menu at downtown restaurants so customers can sample different dishes; and Jazz on the River, which brought local jazz musicians to a new stage behind the Marathon County Public Library on Sundays last summer.

Brodek also helped to spearhead, along with Glass Hat tavern owner Gisy Marks, a competition that resulted in 18 murals painted on the city's north side, brightening a neighborhood that hadn't received much attention in recent years. 

Brodek, a native of Racine, said there are a lot of things she'll miss about the Wausau community, including the people she met and especially the outdoor recreation, like running at Fern Island. 

"There's a lot that I got to know and love," she said. 

She said the River District will be in good hands as the organization's board searches for her replacement. 

"Blake is going to bring new ideas in, and I couldn't be happier to hand the reins to him," she said. 

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