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State Theatre could once again host performances after its sale

A half year after The State Theatre was closed and replaced by a new Eau Claire performing arts center, the historic structure has been sold and plans call for it to house a children’s foundation and host events again.

Azara Properties of Elk Mound bought the iconic downtown Eau Claire building at 316 Eau Claire St. on Jan. 31, spending $195,000 on the structure, according to Eau Claire County property records.

Joe Luginbill said the building will house the Luginbill Children’s Foundation he founded in December 2016 as a nonprofit he said consists of 13 programs that support youth and families. Plans call for the foundation to partner with other nonprofits and organizations on a variety of programming for children and families, he said, noting the initiative is in its preliminary stages and details remain to be worked out. Other agencies could be housed at the State as well, he said.

“We will have a variety of education, entertainment and youth development programming that will be offered throughout the building,” Luginbill said.

Plans for specific programming that would be housed at the State continue to evolve, Luginbill said. Several agencies have contacted him about possible partnerships with the foundation, he said.

“I am feeling very optimistic that we can make this work,” he said. “I think a lot of people want to be involved with being part of something that will help save this theater.”

Azara Properties is registered to Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound. He owns properties and businesses in this region, including Azara, a Water Street hookah and vape shop. He also owns the former My Place Bar, 406-408 Galloway St., which he plans to reopen as a coffee shop and bar called My Office Lounge.

The State Theatre opened in 1926 as a vaudeville house and in ensuing decades hosted events of all sorts, serving as a key Chippewa Valley performance venue. At one point it was a movie theater and was then reborn as a home of music, theater and other performances.

The building was not designed to host large-scale, modern productions and is in need of repairs such as a new roof and furnace. Those limitations and the region’s booming arts scene prompted the construction of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, which opened in September.

Luginbill reminisced about past performances he was part of at the distinctive State Theatre, where he performed in Eau Claire Children’s Theatre productions and attended many shows there with his family.

He said he is excited the building will have another chapter instead of being demolished as some have feared.

“I have so many fond memories of being at the State,” Luginbill said. “That place has been a big part of life for many people in Eau Claire.”

Luginbill said plans call for events to once again be staged at the State. A deed restriction that would have prevented such shows at the theater so as not to compete with the Pablo Center were discussed but were not a part of the sale, said Pam Rasmussen, president Eau Claire Regional Arts Center Board that owned the State.

The thought that if such a restriction would have hindered its sale, Rasmussen said.

“The performances that would take place (at the State) would seem to be complimentary to the Pablo and not direct competition,” Rasmussen said.

Jason Jon Anderson, Pablo Center executive director, agreed and said he is happy to have another partner in the continued redevelopment of downtown Eau Claire.

“We look forward to working symbiotically in the future,” Anderson said when asked about the new State Theatre plans.

Before those can happen, Rasmussen said, the theater will need remodeling. “That building is going to need some love first,” she said.

Luginbill said an assessment of the structure’s construction needs is ongoing. A building remodel will seek to maintain as much of the existing structure as possible, he said, while providing needed updates.

“We want to preserve the historic nature of the building as much as we can,” he said.

Rasmussen said she is happy the State Theatre will be preserved and it will be used to provide services to kids and families.

“It feels like this will be a good use of that building,” she said.

Trump to call for unity, face skepticism in State of Union

WASHINGTON — The White House says President Donald Trump will call for optimism and unity in tonight’s State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks.

But will anyone buy it?

Skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. Democrats, emboldened after the midterm elections and the recent shutdown fight, see little evidence of a president willing to compromise. And even the president’s staunchest allies know that bipartisan rhetoric read off a teleprompter is usually undermined by scorching tweets and unpredictable policy maneuvers.

Still, the fact that Trump’s advisers feel a need to try a different approach is a tacit acknowledgement that the president’s standing is weakened as he begins his third year in office.

The shutdown left some Republicans frustrated over his insistence on a border wall, something they warned him the new Democratic House majority would not bend on. Trump’s approval rating during the shutdown dipped to 34 percent, down from 42 percent a month earlier, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president would use his address “to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution.”

“He’s calling for cooperation,” she said, adding that Trump will point to examples of where this has happened on his watch. Officials said the president is also expected to highlight infrastructure, trade and prescription drug pricing as areas in which the parties could work together.

But Washington’s most recent debate offered few signs of cooperation between Trump and Democrats. Under pressure from conservative backers, Trump refused to sign a government funding bill that did not include money for his long-sought border wall. With hundreds of thousands of Americans missing paychecks, Trump ultimately agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow negotiations on border security to continue.

With the new Feb. 15 funding deadline looming, Trump is expected to use his address to outline his demands, which still include funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency to secure wall funding if Congress doesn’t act, though it appeared unlikely he would take that step tonight. Advisers have also been reviewing options to secure some funding without making such a declaration.

“You’ll hear the State of the Union, and then you’ll see what happens right after the State of the Union,” Trump told reporters.

The president’s address marks the first time he is speaking before a Congress that is not fully under Republican control. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who won plaudits from Democrats for her hard-line negotiating tactics during the shutdown, will be seated behind the president — a visual reminder of Trump’s political opposition.

In the audience will be several Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the party’s response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become Georgia’s first black governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer previewed Democrats’ message for countering Trump, declaring Monday, “The number one reason the state of the union has such woes is the president.”

While White House officials cautioned that Trump’s remarks were still being finalized, the president was expected to use some of his televised address to showcase a growing economy. Despite the shutdown, the U.S. economy added a robust 304,000 jobs in January, marking 100 straight months of job growth. That’s the longest such period on record.

Trump and his top aides have also hinted that he is likely to use the address to announce a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Despite the objections of some advisers, Trump announced in December that he was withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria.

In a weekend interview with CBS, Trump said efforts to defeat the IS group were “at 99 percent right now. We’ll be at 100.”

U.S. officials say the Islamic State group now controls less than 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) of territory in Syria, an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. That’s down from an estimated 400 to 600 square kilometers (155 to 230 square miles) that the group held at the end of November before Trump announced the withdrawal, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, a Defense Department inspector general report released Monday said the Islamic State group “remains a potent force of battle-hardened and well-disciplined fighters that could likely resurge in Syria” absent continued counterterrorism pressure. According to the Pentagon, the group is still able to coordinate offensives and counteroffensives.

Administration officials say the White House has also been weighing several “moonshot” goals for the State of the Union address. One that is expected to be announced is a new initiative aimed at ending transmissions of HIV by 2030.

Trump’s guests for the speech include Anna Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who was allegedly bullied because of his last name. They will sit with first lady Melania Trump during the address.


Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville, Matthew Lee and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Poll: Financial security varies by age, income

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just how financially secure you feel depends on your age, your race, your education and — perhaps not surprisingly — your income.

A new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that college graduates feel far more confident than high school graduates that they could afford an emergency $1,000 expense.

People ages 18 to 29 are more optimistic about finding a good job than those in their 60s are.

But Americans in their 60s are more confident than adults under 30 are about affording credit card and other expenses.

Most white Americans say they can manage their housing costs; blacks and Hispanics are far less confident that they can keep up.

The poll’s findings reflect the sharp demographic divides in the U.S. economy. The nation’s prosperity since the Great Recession ended nearly a decade ago has benefited some groups of people far more than others and is obscuring economic soft spots caused by a persistent wealth gap.

Overall, about 6 in 10 Americans describe their personal finances as good. Most of the rest say they’re in poor shape financially.

The nation’s unemployment rate is a healthy 4 percent, the pace of hiring has accelerated in recent months and average hourly earnings have risen 3.2 percent over the past 12 months.

Yet whatever financial confidence people feel depends largely on their individual circumstances and challenges. And compared with last year, fewer Americans overall expect the good economy to last in 2019.

Some of the doubts reflect souring opinions of President Donald Trump. The poll shows that Trump’s rating on handling the economy — a strength throughout his presidency — fell to 44 percent in January from 50 percent in December. His overall approval rating in the poll was 34 percent.

“I can’t say he’s been all bad on the economy,” said Ellen Collins, 70, of Centerville, Ohio. “But he’s a child. He’s egotistical.”

Forty-four percent say they think the economy will worsen over the next year. About a quarter (27 percent) say the economy will improve; just as many think it will stay the same. That’s in contrast to a year ago, when expectations of the year ahead were almost evenly split: 33 percent said then that they thought conditions would deteriorate, and 34 percent expected them to improve.

Collins said the stock market’s sell-off in the closing months of 2018, likely fueled in part by Trump’s trade war with China, hurt her retirement savings. She figures, though, that stocks will ultimately rebound to cover those losses.

Collins, a retired teacher and information technology specialist, stressed how fortunate she felt to have enough savings and insurance to cover the costs of two years of chemotherapy treatments she needed for cancer.

“I don’t know what people who don’t have insurance do,” she said.

Health care costs and other unexpected expenses are a source of concern for many in the AP-NORC survey. Americans who are most likely to feel financially secure are those who earn more than $100,000 — nearly double the median household income.

Likewise, a college education appears to be a significant buffer against financial risks. A majority of college graduates (58 percent) say they’re very confident they could afford an emergency expense of $1,000. By contrast, more than half of Americans with a high school education or less (54 percent) say they have little or no confidence that they could pay a surprise bill that high.

And while younger workers might not have as high a starting income as previous generations did, people 18 to 29 are more hopeful about finding decent jobs than Americans in their 60s are. Thirty-five percent of those under 30 say they’re very confident about hiring possibilities. Just 23 percent of those over 60 feel that way.

Even some workers in their 50s find it difficult to land a job that meets their financial needs.

Sarah Apwisch, 52, said she was recently laid off as a market researcher only to be rehired in a new role at the same company at just 60 percent of her previous pay.

“I’m honestly taking this job because I’m afraid of losing health care,” said Apwisch, who is married and lives in the small city of Three Rivers, Mich., where she works remotely for a company in Chicago.

She says she’s optimistic about the overall economy but says the growing role of big data and social media has caused the market research industry to fall into decline.

“If I lose the connection with my current employer, it will be harder for me to get a job in my industry because most of the jobs are in the big cities,” she said.

Though older Americans don’t feel as much job security, most of them do have the benefit of decades of income and savings. About six in 10 Americans in their 60s say they’re confident about paying their credit card and other payments, while 43 percent of Americans under 30 feel that way.

On housing affordability, a stark racial divide exists: About six in 10 white Americans say they can manage their housing costs, compared with just about a third of black and Hispanic Americans. White Americans are far likelier to own a home than are those minority groups, who face rising rents in many high-cost urban areas.

Chris Edwards, a 28-year-old African-American in Columbia, Missouri, said he couldn’t afford a major emergency expense. A renter, Edwards relies on Medicaid and income from Social Security’s disability program.

If he were hit by a sudden expense of $400?

“I wouldn’t know,” Edwards said. “I wouldn’t know.”

UW-EC's Dennis Beale receives Regents Diversity Award

When Dennis Beale Jr. began attending UW-Eau Claire, he looked around and rarely found someone who looked like him. If he did, they barely spoke to him or made eye contact, let alone understood what it was like to grow up in inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago.

“When I first started, it was maybe me and one other African-American male,” Beale said. “I didn’t see a lot of diversity around campus.”

But he was determined to change that. Beale went on to graduate from UW-Eau Claire with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2012, then a master’s in higher education professional development in May 2015.

Now, Beale serves as assistant director of the university’s Blugold Beginnings, a program that works to educate underrepresented, low-income or first generation students. He’s mentored hundreds of students and launched the university’s Black Male Empowerment student group on campus.

And on Friday, Beale will be honored for that work as one of three recipients of the UW System Board of Regents’ 2019 Diversity Awards.

“I always told myself that when I could get into a position to make a change, that I would,” Beale said. “It’s like I’m finally seeing the fruits of my labor from working here. ... It feels real good. I’m thankful every day working on campus and watching how with each year that goes by, UW-Eau Claire becomes more diverse, and getting to work with those students.”

According to a UW System news release, recipients of the award were selected based on the following criteria: Their contribution to equity and diversity and leading to positive institutional change; accountability demonstrated through routine assessment and feedback to promote progress in equity and diversity goals; intersections across multiple dimensions of diversity; and collaborations with other units and departments, as well as the community outside of the university.

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, executive director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the university and director of Blugold Beginnings, called Beale a “perfect candidate” for the award.

As a graduate student, Beale worked with student athletes of color, helping them develop their talents on the field and ensuring they had a strong community off the field. Beale also assisted with recruiting efforts at high schools in major cities, like his hometown of Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities area, to bring students of color to campus, then supported their success by creating mentoring programs and fostering their leadership skills.

Beale continued to contribute to the university after graduating, starting his career as student services coordinator, and now assistant director of Blugold Beginnings.

“Dennis does anything in his power to make his students successful,” Thesing-Ritter said. “He’s been instrumental to helping us build a strong program for our students of color at UW-Eau Claire, and to enhance our retention and recruitment efforts as a campus. ... Even as a young employee who hasn’t worked here long, he’s made a significant impact.”

For Beale, what he’s most proud of is the work he’s done with Black Male Empowerment, a student group he started in February 2017. The group offers community and connection with fellow black men on campus, as well as opportunities for professional and leadership development.

“In society, African-American males can be labeled with these negative statistics. And for me, I didn’t want these men to experience that coming to Eau Claire,” Beale said. “I’m using my experiences to help them understand the opportunities they should take advantage of.”

Even more exciting, Beale said, was when he was able to take 15 students from the group to England and France, where they participated in faculty-student research and were able to get the study abroad experience.

“As a student of color, you don’t always get to look forward to studying abroad,” Beale said. “So giving these men opportunities like this ... that’s something that I felt was very important and makes this experience everything to me.”

Lewis Balom, a senior at UW-Eau Claire who serves as a social media representative with the Black Male Empowerment group, said Beale’s award doesn’t come as a surprise to him.

Balom first met Beale when he started at UW-Eau Claire and joined the football team. Since then, he’s found Beale to be a mentor who he and other students of color can always turn to.

“We never feel like we’re pestering him or putting too much stuff on him. It’s not like a job (to him); it’s a family,” said Balom, who hails from Chicago. “A lot of us, we never had a legit male to look up to. Dennis has the biggest impact in my life because he’s giving me the guidelines to become a man. ... He gives you everything without expecting anything from you.”

Julian Emerson / By Julian Emerson Leader-Telegram staff