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Downtown sings economic tune: Arts cited for key role in driving Eau Claire development

Local acclaimed music and arts scene is a driving force in Eau Claire development, panelists at UW-Eau Claire say

posted March 1, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Lauren French

  • mw_techpanel_2a_030117-1
    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik | Enlarge
    - Zach Halmstad speaks during a panel discussion Tuesday at UW-Eau Claire’s Davies Center hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council on the economic impact of music and the arts in the Chippewa Valley’s economy. View more photos at LeaderTelegram.com.
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    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik | Enlarge
    - From right, Nick Meyer, Sean Carey and Zach Halmstad speak on a panel hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council on the economic impact of the arts and culture scene in the Chippewa Valley on Tuesday at the UW-Eau Claire Davies Center. View more photos at LeaderTelegram.com.
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    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik | Enlarge
    - Jason Jon Anderson speaks on a panel hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council on the economic impacts of the growing arts and culture scene in the Chippewa Valley on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at the UW-Eau Claire Davies Center. View more photos at LeaderTelegram.com.

Without the idea of the Confluence Arts Center five years ago, downtown Eau Claire might be a drastically different place today.

That’s according to Jamf Software co-founder Zach Halmstad, who joined three other panelists at a discussion Tuesday to highlight the role of music and the arts in downtown Eau Claire’s economic surge.

“When I look at this,” Halmstad said as he gestured at a  graphic display behind him of the $45 million arts center, which is under construction and expected to open next year, “this is economic development through the arts.”

Halmstad; Volume One owner Nick Meyer; Sean Carey, an Eau Claire-based musician who plays in Bon Iver, S. Carey and other projects; and Jason Jon Anderson, assistant director of conferences and event production at UW-Eau Claire, addressed a crowd of about 40 people in the university’s Davies Center. The discussion was hosted through UW-Eau Claire and the Madison-based nonprofit Wisconsin Technology Council. 

In his opening address, Halmstad argued the idea alone for the Confluence Project — which includes the arts center, the recently opened Haymarket Landing student housing project and a public plaza now being considered — sparked the creation of numerous economic drivers in the downtown area. Those include Jamf’s current downtown headquarters building, the Lismore and Oxbow hotels — of which Halmstad is owner and part owner, respectively — and the north side parking ramp. 

“My hope is that that just continues to grow,” Halmstad said of development downtown. “Our downtown doesn’t look today like it did five years ago, and I hope five years from now it doesn’t look like it does today, in a positive way.”

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, said the music scene in the Eau Claire area is part of what attracts millennials and companies looking to hire talented people.

The region hosts five major music festivals each summer that bring in tens of thousands of patrons both locally and nationally, features recording studios that attract noted musicians, has a university with acclaimed music and theater programs, and is home to the Grammy-winning Bon Iver and its celebrated frontman, Justin Vernon. 

Still hopes the discussion Tuesday inspires those who attended to be ambassadors for their region.

“In this day and age, in a medium-sized city, you need to have some factors that set you apart from others,” Still said. “Music is part of that. You don’t find what Eau Claire has in every city in Wisconsin.”

Contact: 715-830-5828, lauren.french@ecpc.com, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter