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Library project adjusting to smaller fundraising forecast

The Eau Claire public library’s initial goal to raise $11.5 million in private donations for a renovation and expansion project is too high because local philanthropists feel a sense of donor fatigue, according to a report from fundraising experts.

Hired by L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library to study the feasibility of getting money for a major project, Crescendo Fundraising Professionals of Houston., Minn., submitted a report recently on its research, including local donor interviews and online survey results.

The consultants found great community support for the library and interest in overhauling the 43-year-old building to add square footage for more programs and amenities.

Crescendo interviewed many local philanthropists, who were generally positive about the building expansion and renovation, seeing the library’s current shortcomings and importance of its future in the community.

“However, those with significant philanthropic potential are currently tapped, both from a philanthropic perspective and a leadership viewpoint, due to the high level of recent and future capital campaigns,” the report stated.

Bob Eierman, library board president, said the findings were a little disappointing, but not surprising.

“There’s been so many projects going on around the city,” he said.

Private donations played a big part in opening a downtown arts center last fall, which Crescendo noted. Projects for the Eau Claire Children’s Museum, Hope Gospel Mission, Feed My People Food Bank and UW-Eau Claire’s planned Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex are also anticipated to tap major donors.

“The respondents concern about the timing of the campaign, due to the perceived donor fatigue in the region was the number one reported concern in our study,” Crescendo wrote. “There is a sense of urgency in the community to complete the project and a clear enthusiasm but also a reticence about the timing and amount needed for the full expansion and renovation proposed in the study.”

Based on its local research and experience, Crescendo projected $7 million in donations is an attainable goal for the Eau Claire library project.

What’s inside?

Given the lower expectation for fundraising, the library board is looking at a project around $18 million rather than the $23 million initially considered for renovation, addition and new furnishings.

Eierman’s enthusiasm stayed high though, saying it will still be the biggest upgrades since the library opened in 1976.

“It’s going to be a real good, exciting project,” he said.

Instead of adding 37,000 square feet, the scaled-back project will create 24,250 square feet of new space. Both versions of the project include adding a third level — something the original building’s designers planned on when building an extra-strong foundation — and an option for a rooftop terrace.

The library’s next step toward a building project that could start as early as 2020 is coming up with a design for the added space to fit library users’ current and future needs.

“In order to move forward with the capital campaign we need to know exactly what needs the renovation would fill,” said Isa Small, the library’s programming and communications services manager.

For that the library is pressing forward this spring with its design phase, which will involve asking the community about which library services are their highest priorities and warrant more space from the renovation project.

“A majority of that will be from feedback from community on what they currently need and what they’d need in the future as well,” Small said.

A 2017 analysis of the building provided square footage and cost estimates for adding space to the new building, as well as pointing out current deficiencies.

Problems with the existing building include a leaky roof, inefficient heating and cooling system, outdated plumbing and uneven pavement outside its doors.

“Even if we wouldn’t do a renovation project in the next five years, we’d have to be investing millions of dollars in upkeep for what’s there,” Eierman said.

The 2017 assessment of the building put that figure at $1 million annually for five years for the building’s infrastructure — without even adding any new amenities for users.

Lots of interest

Despite a lower forecast for donations, Crescendo’s surveys and interviews found many agree the project should happen.

When asked if the project has merit, is justifiable and an urgent priority, 94 percent of the 650 people that Crescendo spoke to or surveyed agreed.

Crescendo interviewed local philanthropists and found the majority are considering some gift, but found they so far amounted to a collective $1.9 million. The fundraising experts stated those big gifts usually grow even larger after a well-planned campaign. But unless a lead donor steps forward and pledges $4 million to $5 million to inspire others to give, Crescendo said the $11.5 million goal will be difficult to reach.

“If we’re able to secure a lead donor that would change things,” Small said.

While large gifts are seen as crucial, Crescendo’s findings noted how there appeared to be support from many people willing to make their own small donations. Of the 576 people who took the online survey, 95 percent indicated they’d give some amount to a fundraising campaign.

“This is an astonishing finding showing an incredibly high level of support from grassroots donors,” Crescendo stated. “This finding is highly encouraging and showcases the tremendous love and support for the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library from the general public.”

And 200 people stated they’d be willing to help with the fundraising effort.

As a popular downtown destination, the report noted that people see the library’s potential role in the area’s ongoing revitalization.

“It’s the most visited building downtown,” Eierman said. “It’s really a facility the whole city accesses.”

People of all ages and income levels can go to the library to look at materials, use computers, attend meetings, do research and many other uses, he said.

Crescendo did interviews and focus groups with 68 community members, including local government leaders, businesspeople and prospective donors. An online survey also was used, bringing in opinions of 576 people.

City chips in

The Eau Claire city government will be paying a large portion of the project’s costs.

The city plans to give $11.5 million from the project — $3 million from the 2018 and current budget and the remaining $8.5 million next year.

Crescendo also recommended the library consider going to the city government and requesting an additional $1.5 million contribution.

While not absolutely ruling it out in the future, Eierman said the library currently doesn’t intend to ask for more money from the city.

“That is the biggest amount they’ve ever provided to a project like this,” he said. “The city is doing what it can.”

City Manager Dale Peters said the amount budgeted for the library project does keep the city within its debt policy limits.

The library does serve an important role in the community, Peters said, and the city’s contribution will go toward maintaining, updating and expanding it. He also added that the philanthropic campaign will give everyone a chance to chip in.

“This fundraising effort is an exciting opportunity for the community to assist in upgrading the physical size and capacity of the library for programming and services,” Peters said.

The most recent renovation project in the library was proposed in the mid-2000s and went through cuts before it was ultimately completed in 2009.

Initially proposed as a $3.6 million project, the library later settled on $1.57 million in renovations to the building, focused primarily on the youth services area. The project was funded by about $1 million in donations and money the library had saved in years leading up to the work.

However, the city government’s plan to contribute $11.5 million toward the new project and a recent City Council decision shows more support for the library.

While city departments didn’t see new positions in the 2019 budget, the council boosted its contribution to the library by $179,800 to create two new jobs to improve building safety, boost literacy outreach and help serve the city’s low-income population.

Crescendo’s report indicates mixed feelings among the general public about the city government’s level of support for the public library.

Some who were interviewed and surveyed said the city has not done enough to fund the library and should do more. Others worried about the potential tax impact of a major city contribution to the project.

Foxconn changes presumably won't change Eau Claire plans

Whether Foxconn officials decide to build flat screen panels at a new plant in southeast Wisconsin or change that plan to focus on developing technology, an innovation center the company planned in Eau Claire should not be affected, a city official said Friday.

“At this point we don’t see the Foxconn announcement having an impact here in Eau Claire,” said Aaron White, the city’s economic development director. “We are operating on the premise that as far as the plans here go, nothing will change.”

Foxconn, the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer, caused a stir earlier this week after the company announced it was shifting its initial plan to employ 13,000 workers building flat screens at a $10 billion plant in the village of Mount Pleasant in Racine County. The company said instead of making flat screens, most of its workers would develop technology.

However, on Friday Foxconn officials reversed course and sent a statement reiterating the company’s intent to building a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin following a conversation between President Trump and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou.

After the controversial announcement to build the manufacturing site, a plan that includes more than $4 billion in tax credit and other incentives to the company, Foxconn officials said in July they would establish innovation sites in Eau Claire and Green Bay, an effort to benefit other state communities and further the company’s technology efforts.

Officials said the Eau Claire initiative, named Foxconn Place Chippewa Valley, would create 150 high-tech jobs. Those employees would become part of Foxconn’s supply chain and contribute to the development of the company’s products. The company said it planned to begin operations here early this year.

The jobs that would come to Eau Claire would be high-tech positions, White said, and presumably would not be impacted if Foxconn decided to employ fewer manufacturing workers.

“The jobs here were always going to be research-and-development white-collar jobs,” he said.

Foxconn purchased more than 15,000 square feet at the Haymarket Landing building, 200 Eau Claire St. The company has said it is moving forward on developing that space, White said, “but we don’t have any better idea of a timeline about that.”

Foxconn also said it planned to buy the former Wells Fargo office building at 204 E. Grand Ave., a six-story structure, to be converted into a laboratory and incubator for technology-related products. That building is owned by JCap Real Estate, and company President Brian Johnson said recently that Foxconn’s purchase of that building has not been finalized.

“We don’t have any update on that,” White said. “That was the plan, to move into the former bank building. But so far that has not happened.”

{span style=”color: #000000;”}A Foxconn spokeswoman said the company is committed to having a presence in Eau Claire and hiring is ongoing.{/span}

When Foxconn opens its center, the company’s additional employees would provide more business for downtown businesses, White said.