Eau Claire City Council members expressed concerns Tuesday that only one developer submitted a proposal to build a new city bus transit center as part of a mixed-use development that would include apartments and residential space.
But the council decided to take the first step of a plan to build such a structure at 418 E. Lake St., a city owned parking lot on the east side of South Farwell Street.
Council members voted 8-1 to approve an exclusive right to negotiate with Madison area developers Gorman & Co. to construct the project at that site. The company was the only one to submit a bid to build a new transit center there, one of five locations city officials were considering for it.
Council members previously had disagreed about the best site for the project, but their vote Tuesday means if the transit center development can proceed, it likely will be built at the Lake Street location.
Councilwoman Kate Beaton said she was “surprised” and “disappointed” the project didn’t elicit more responses from developers. She conceded that upfront costs associated with the Lake Street site are lowest among the five proposed sites because the city already owns the property.
“But I am not entirely convinced that this is the best site,” Beaton said, the lone vote against the agreement. She said the project deserved more input from the city Transit Commission and other city residents.
While other council members said they too were disappointed in the lack of proposals, they favored moving ahead with the project so it possibly could open next year. Councilman David Klinkhammer and others said the Transit Commission and others already weighed in on the project when potential project sites were discussed last year.
“It’s a viable proposal. ... Let’s move on,” Klinkhammer said.
Besides the Lake Street site, others considered include property between North Farwell and North Barstow streets with the Chippewa River at its south border; land between Wisconsin and Galloway streets; a location bordered by North Dewey, Putnam and Wisconsin streets; and property between Wisconsin and Madison streets.
The agreement stipulates that the city will negotiate exclusively with Gorman to develop the project and will have until the end of the year to proceed with that work. That deal is just the first of many required for the transit center to be finalized, city finance director Jay Winzenz said.
Councilmen Dave Strobel and Bob Von Haden said they back the agreement in part because they believe Gorman & Co. is a good match for the project, initially valued at about $10 million. Plans call for the development to include 66 apartments, between 20 and 40 percent of which would be designated as low-income units. Gorman & Co. built a similar mixed-use bus transfer center in La Crosse.
“We have a very good developer with experience doing this,” Strobel said.
City officials have spoken for years about replacing the current transit center, which is inadequate for the city’s busing system. Center plans expanded beyond a bus station to include housing and commercial space, part of continuing downtown revitalization efforts.
The current transit center along the 400 block of South Barstow Street was built in 1984 as a temporary structure “and it no longer meets the needs of transit users,” Winzenz said.
On May 10 City Council members approved seeking bids from developers for a mixed-use transit center with hopes of receiving multiple bids. But by the Oct. 31 deadline the city had only the one bid from Gorman.
City officials subsequently sent surveys to 43 potential developers asking why they didn’t bid on the project. They received only two responses, Winzenz said, both noting those developers were too busy to build the mixed-use transit center.
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