When Eau Claire city officials applied for a federal grant in October to help pay for a proposed $23.5 million development that would include a new transit transfer center, the odds of receiving that money weren’t in their favor.
The city was seeking $5 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Typically only about 6 percent of applicants receive money through that program.
On Wednesday the office of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, announced Eau Claire had received that money to help pay for the six-story project the city hopes to start building next year.
“The TIGER funding was key for us to be able to do this project,” Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters said. “It feels really good to know we have this money.”
TIGER grant money will enable the city to build not only a new transfer center but to combine that project with workforce housing, parking and limited commercial space, Peters said.
“That money will allow us to build this project ... which we hope can truly be a catalyst for further development in downtown Eau Claire,” he said.
Kind said he is pleased Eau Claire obtained “the very competitive grant” for a project he said will improve the transit system. The project is another example of successful continued downtown redevelopment, he said.
“I look forward to watching the new transit center help Eau Claire area businesses and commuters connect with the community,” he said.
In a news release issued Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin praised the securing of TIGER funding for the transfer center project, saying it will “enhance the quality of life for Chippewa Valley residents and families.”
Baldwin said she worked last summer to restore TIGER grant funding scheduled for elimination as part of President Trump’s proposed budget.
The transfer center project would be at the site of the current transfer center in the 400 block of South Farwell Street. It would include a level of underground parking with the bus transfer station and limited commercial space at ground level.
Two levels of parking would be built above the transfer station, with four stories of housing above those. The new structure would be taller than the current city parking ramp just north of the bus transferstationalong Farwell Street.
In addition to the $5 million federal grant, the city plans to pay $1.25 million toward the structure. The remainder would be paid for by whichever developer constructs the building.
The city hopes to select a project developer and a design this year, Peters said, with construction to start in 2019.
City officials have discussed replacing the current transfer center for years. That center was built in 1984 as a temporary structure that no longer meets the needs of transit users. Last year the city considered building a transfer center along South Farwell Street next to the Schlegelmilch-McDaniel House, but that plan was later scrapped.
Eau Claire Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle was a member of a transit site selection committee that studied possible transfer center sites. Receiving money to help move forward a plan she called “long overdue” is heartening, she said.
“It is thrilling to know there are real dollars at hand to propel our city to meaningfully transform public transportation,” she said.
Council President Kerry Kincaid praised city staff for their work to obtain the grant she said will allow for a much-needed transfer center upgrade.
“Many people depend on the public transportation system,” she said. “It is an important service that the city has wanted to improve for a very long time.”