Friday, May 25, 2018

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Eau Claire seeks city market study

Council minority asks that areas outside West Bank also get attention

  • WestBankRedevelopment

Eau Claire wants to know if there’s enough supply and demand for a new marketplace for locally produced food in an industrial area the city plans to revamp.

The City Council voted unanimously, 10-0, to pursue federal grants for a market feasibility study, but some members argued it should not be limited to one part of the city.

“I don’t think we should limit it by saying it should just be in the West Bank Redevelopment District,” Councilman Bob Von Haden said.

Though that area may prove to be the best possible location considering it is close to the downtown farmers market, he said other parts of Eau Claire should also be considered.

But broadening the scope of a feasibility study would lose focus on the city’s goal to re-create the West Bank with a focus on locally produced foods, Councilwoman Kathleen Mitchell responded.

An attempt to broaden the grant request’s scope beyond the redevelopment area failed in a 7-3 vote.

The city and its Redevelopment Authority already have purchased riverfront land in the West Bank and are beginning to plan how it will be divided between public areas and parcels available for private development.

Mike Schatz, city economic development administrator, said designs for a riverfront trail and other public amenities should be finished in June.

The city will apply to two U.S. Department of Agriculture grant programs for funds to study Eau Claire’s supply and demand for a new marketplace that would sell locally produced food in the West Bank area. Those programs offer grants between $5,000 and $100,000 toward such studies.

Councilman David Strobel said he’s worried plans for the West Bank are becoming too focused on public improvements instead of land that private developers can buy and turn into taxpaying businesses or housing.

“I just have a lot of concern we’re going to put a lot of things in there that are not going to generate revenue for the city,” he said.

But Councilman Eric Larsen responded that the study would explore not just a public market but also other ownership models.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be publicly owned or tax-exempt,” he said.

Councilman Andrew Werthmann said multiple options would be considered by the study, including a food hub for farmers to sell directly to customers, a large building for a food co-op or even a few greenhouses.

“There’s a whole number of different things,” he said.

And at the end of the debate, Councilwoman Mitchell reminded colleagues that their vote only allows the city to apply for federal funds to study if the local economy can support a kind of public market.

“I don’t see anything to be afraid of here,” she said. “The operative word is ‘feasibility.’ ”

Other business

Also during Tuesday’s meeting:

• Visit Eau Claire’s contract awarding it 56 percent of city hotel room taxes was extended for two more months. The contract was set to expire Thursday, but the council granted the short-term extension to allow time for the city and convention and visitor’s bureau to negotiate a new contract.

• Black River Falls-based firm Lunda Construction will do repairs to the Madison Street bridge, starting in late summer or early fall. The council approved the company’s bid of about $557,300 for the project.

• The West Central Regional Planning Commission will evaluate sites for a new city bus Transfer Center to replace the one currently at the 400 block of South Farwell Street. The council requested the commission to do the $60,000 study — funded by a $48,000 state Department of Transportation grant and $12,000 from the city.

Dowd can be reached at 715-833-9204, 800-236-7077 or andrew.dowd@ecpc.com.


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