Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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Eau Claire City Council to vote on arts center design

Construction expected to begin in late summer

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    Eau Claire City Hall on July 15, 2010.

    Dan Reiland

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After countless meetings, arduous fundraising, changed plans and worries about state money for a community arts center in downtown Eau Claire, design plans for the structure could receive the green light today.

On Monday the Eau Claire City Council discussed a proposal to amend the general development plan for the project to include building overhangs and encroachments. The council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the plan for the 130,000-square-foot structure today. The project already received approval from the city’s Plan Commission and Waterways & Parks Commission. 

“This is the next step for this project to happen,” council President Kerry Kincaid said. 

Developers announced the Confluence Project, which includes the arts center and an adjacent mixed-use building that is nearly complete, in May 2012. The project marks a continuation of downtown revitalization started with the nearby Phoenix Park and continued with redevelopment of the North Barstow district that includes numerous apartment buildings and other businesses that have revamped much of downtown Eau Claire’s north side. 

Work on the arts center is scheduled to begin in late summer, and the structure is scheduled to open in 2018. It would be built on property along the 100 block of Graham Avenue near the merger of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers.  

The arts center’s main 1,200-seat theater would replace the nearby State Theatre and would provide a much larger stage to accommodate larger productions. The new building also would include an additional 400-seat theater that could be used for various types of performances. 

Other portions of the arts center would be used by UW-Eau Claire classes tied to the performing arts, and community arts groups would have space in the facility too. Visit Eau Claire, which promotes tourism in the Chippewa Valley, also would relocate its offices to the arts center and would open a visitor’s center on the building’s first floor. 

In addition, the building would be home to rehearsal rooms, an art gallery, a recording studio and production shops.

The city has pledged $5 million toward the project and a $200,000 annual allocation of city hotel revenue toward operating costs. The mixed-use building, with commercial space on its bottom level and five stories of apartments above intended for university students, received an additional $5.9 million in city support.

 The cost of the arts center has fluctuated from its original $55 million to $40 million to the most recent $45 million estimate. But project backers have solicited fiscal support for the structure, and thus far about $12.5 million of the newly revised $15.5 million total in donations has been raised.

Additional Confluence Project funding includes $15 million in state money, $3.5 million from Eau Claire County and $3 million in new market tax credits.

Garfield project

Questions were posed Monday about whether a plan to close a portion of Garfield Avenue on the UW-Eau Claire campus along the Chippewa River would confuse motorists trying to traverse the area, but a university official said signage would direct drivers where to go. 

Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, told City Council members the project will include signs restricting drivers — except for emergency vehicles and others authorized to travel there — from Garfield Avenue along the river and would direct them how to access Putnam Park Drive.

Resident Jim Dunning, who lives at 164 Wold Court near the site, questioned whether motorists will be confused about accessing Putnam Park Drive with the closing of Roosevelt Avenue from Park Avenue to the western end of the street. 

“(Drivers) are going to come up to that dead end and say ‘How the heck do we get to Putnam Park Drive?’ ” he told the council.

Motorists shouldn’t be confused, Councilman Bob Von Haden said, because the city Waterways & Parks Commission stipulated “that signage will be a part of this.”   

The $12.4 million project would convert the current site into a series of bicycle and pedestrian paths connected to gathering spaces and an outdoor classroom. The initiative is prompted by a need to upgrade utilities at the site, Rindo said. 

If the City Council approves the plan today, the project still requires the backing of the UW System Board of Regents and the State Building Commission.  

Food trucks

A proposal to allow food trucks to operate for three extra hours each day along Water Street compared with other parts of the city has prompted the ire of residents of the surrounding neighborhood. 

At Monday’s City Council meeting several residents of the Randall Park neighborhood that encompasses the Water Street area said allowing food trucks to sell until 2 a.m. there instead of halting sales at 11 p.m. as in other parts of the city where the trucks are allowed will have an adverse impact on the neighborhood. Sales in all areas where food trucks would be allowed to operate would begin at 8 a.m.  

Targeting the neighborhood for early morning food sales to drunk people returning home at that hour goes against the work of the Historic Randall Park Neighborhood Association and others living in the neighborhood to make the area more family friendly, said neighborhood resident Nick Smiar, 320 Broadway St. 

“We’re saying this is not acceptable,” Smiar told the council. 

The council is scheduled to vote today on new mobile food truck regulations that alter current rules. The license fee would be $250.

As part of the proposal, food trucks would be able to operate on city streets in commercial areas but would have to be at least 200 feet from restaurants and at least 500 feet from sites at which designated special events occur. Food trucks would be allowed at six city parks — Carson, Riverview, Phoenix, Owen, Pinehurt and at the Eau Claire Soccer Park.

Currently food trucks are allowed on private properties in the city, in industrially zoned areas and in conjunction with special events such as music concerts.  

Contact: 715-830-5911, julian.emerson@ecpc.com  


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