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Ski jumpers landing in Eau Claire this weekend for Silver Mine Invitational

EAU CLAIRE — Chippewa Valley residents will once again have the opportunity this weekend to watch people soar up to 300 feet through the air.

That means, of course, that it’s time once again for the annual ski jumping tournament at Silver Mine Hill in the town of Union.

The 136th Silver Mine Invitational, scheduled Friday night and Saturday, is expected to attract about 40 of the top jumpers from around the United States to the 90-meter hill just west of Eau Claire.

“It’s a pretty dynamic sport,” said organizer Dan Mattoon, who is heading to China soon to be a ski jumping judge at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. “Seeing athletes flying through the air almost a football field in length is pretty amazing.”

The Silver Mine Hill record is 96 meters, or 315 feet, set by Slovenia’s Mikael Kveder in 2014.

This year’s invitational will be composed of three separate events — a junior world qualifier and national U.S. Cup series competition on Friday night and the Upper Midwestern-based Five Hills series tournament on Saturday. The junior world qualifier also will include a nordic combined event, with the 5-kilometer cross country skiing portion scheduled at 8 a.m. Saturday on the new Silver Mine course.

Volunteers are putting the finishing touches on the hill this week. They plan to cut tracks today in the icy run on the 150-foot-tall scaffold where jumpers begin their descent, said Paul Jastrow, chief of competition.

With a relatively cooperative forecast calling for a high of about 17 degrees on both Friday and Saturday, Jastrow is hopeful the tournament will attract at least the usual 2,000 to 3,000 spectators.

For folks concerned about the cold, the site will offer several bonfires and a large warming tent with windows overlooking the landing area.

Spectators have the option of choosing from among several viewing areas, including a stairway that runs the length of the hill, a flat area to the side of K-point (the spot about 85 meters from the end of the jump where the hill begins to flatten out), a space surrounding the spot where skiers end their runs at the bottom of the hill and the hospitality tent at the base of the hill.

“The best location to watch is up on the shelf, one level up. That gets you closer to the action where you can literally hear the sound of jumpers flying by,” said Mattoon, who recommends spectators take in the action from several vantage points. “It’s pretty exhilerating to watch, that’s for sure.”

The tent contains a DJ, beer garden, concessions and activities for kids.

For the uninitiated, Mattoon compared watching the ski jumping tournament with attending a NASCAR race, meaning people can’t really comprehend the speeds and distances attained by competitors until they see the events in person.

“Being there is amazing,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic will take a toll on the draw, as the usual contingent of world-class jumpers from Europe will be absent because of lengthy quarantine requirements for people returning to many European countries.

“We still feel it will be a great event,” Mattoon said.

Recognizing the competition is taking place in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, Jastrow noted that outdoor activities have been shown to carry a much lower risk of spreading the virus.

“It’s a great place to go if you want to be outdoors,” Jastrow said, “and there’s a lot of room to spread out for people who want to social distance.”


Economics
US inflation soared 7% in past year, the most since 1982

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inflation jumped at its fastest pace in nearly 40 years last month, a 7% spike from a year earlier that is increasing household expenses, eating into wage gains and heaping pressure on President Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve to address what has become the biggest threat to the U.S. economy.

Prices have risen sharply for cars, gas, food and furniture as part of a rapid recovery from the pandemic recession that was fueled by vast infusions of government aid and emergency intervention by the Fed, which slashed interest rates. As Americans have ramped up spending, supply chains have been squeezed by shortages of workers and raw materials.

“Inflation ended 2021 very hot,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide. Ayers and other economists say prices may cool off some as snags in the supply chain ease, but inflation will remain elevated throughout 2022.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that its measure of inflation that excludes volatile food and gas prices jumped 5.5% in December, the fastest such increase since 1991. Inflation rose 0.5% overall from November, down from 0.8% the previous month.

Nicole Pomije, a bakery owner in Minnesota, said she is increasing prices for her cookies because of surging costs for butter and other ingredients.

Her basic cookies were priced at 99 cents each, while premium versions such as white chocolate were selling for $1.50 each. But Pomije said she will have to bump up the prices of her basic cookies to the premium price.

“We have to make money,” she said. “We are a business. We don’t want to lose our customers. But I think we might.”

Rising prices have wiped out the healthy pay increases that many Americans have been receiving, making it harder for households, especially lower-income families, to afford basic expenses.

Polls show that inflation has started displacing even the coronavirus as a public concern, making clear the political threat it poses to President Biden and congressional Democrats.

A significant portion of inflation is still being driven by pandemic-driven mismatches between demand and supply. Used car prices have soared more than 37% over the past year because new car production has been limited by shortages of semiconductors. New car prices jumped 1% in December and have soared 11.8% in the past year.

Clothing costs rose 1.7% just in December, its second month of sharp increases, and are up 5.8% from a year ago.

There was some relief last month. Gas prices dropped 0.5% in December, yet they are still 50% higher than a year ago.

Most economists expect inflation to moderate once the omicron wave fades and as Americans shift more of their spending to services such as travel, eating out and movie-going. That would reduce the demand for goods and help clear supply chains, which are showing some signs of untangling.

At the moment, prices are still rising for rent, restaurant meals and groceries. These gains are being driven by strong demand from consumers, who are benefiting from a strong job market and rising wages. The unemployment rate fell to 3.9% last month.

In recent weeks, shortages and higher prices have cropped up at U.S. grocery stores. The omicron variant and severe weather have compounded labor and supply-chain problems.

Many restaurants have been passing along higher labor and food costs onto their customers. Darden Restaurants, the company that owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other chains, said it increased prices by 2 percent at the end of last year and expects to bump them by another 4 percent over the next six months.

Darden CEO Gene Lee recently told investors recently that this is “the toughest inflationary environment we’ve seen in years.”

On Tuesday, Chair Jerome Powell told Congress that if it becomes necessary to fight high inflation more aggressively, the Federal Reserve is prepared to accelerate the interest rate hikes it plans to begin this year. Fed officials have estimated that they will raise their benchmark short-term rate, now pegged near zero, three times this year.

Those rate increases would likely increase borrowing costs for home and auto purchases as well as for business loans, potentially slowing the economy. The Fed is also ending its monthly bond purchases, which were intended to lower longer-term interest rates to encourage borrowing and spending.

The Fed’s pivot hasn’t quelled questions from economists and some senators about whether the Fed has acted too slowly to end its ultra-low-interest rate policies in the face of accelerating inflation.

In his testimony to Congress on Tuesday, Powell said the Fed mistakenly believed that supply chain bottlenecks that have helped drive up the prices of goods wouldn’t last nearly as long as they have. Once the supply chains were unsnarled, he said, prices would come back down.

However, Powell acknowledged that the supply problems have persisted. He noted that many cargo ships remain docked outside the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s largest, waiting to unload.

With the Biden administration facing public discontent over the rise in inflation, the president has said his administration’s investments in ports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure would help by loosening snarled supply chains.

“Supply chain issues pushed up inflation last year, and that won’t duplicate this year,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics.

But economists don’t expect inflation to fall all the way back to the Fed’s target level of 2%.

Leslie Preston, senior economist at TD Bank, forecasts prices will still be rising at a 3% pace at the end of this year.

______

AP Business Writers Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit and Anne D’Innocenzio in New York contributed to this report.


Front-page
featured
Developers sue Blugold, allege breach of contract
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — Eau Claire area developers are suing a branch of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation for allegedly reneging on rights to develop a portion of the Sonnentag Complex site.

Companies owned by business partners Robb Majeski and Peter Hoeft filed the civil lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon against the Blugold Real Estate Foundation in Eau Claire County Court. Attorney Matthew Meyer of law firm Weld Riley is representing the developers.

The lawsuit accuses the foundation’s real estate arm of misrepresenting its intentions to develop part of the Sonnentag site and breaching a contract with the pair of developers, who had invested their own money into the project.

Kimera Way, executive director of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and Blugold Real Estate, said Wednesday afternoon that she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit as she’d not yet seen a copy of it.

The exclusivity agreement at the heart of the lawsuit was tied to a mixed-use building the university had at one time planned to be part of the Sonnentag site, but was removed from later plans.

Signed in December 2017 by the developers and Blugold Real Estate, the exclusivity agreement gives Southside Holdings — a company owned by Majeski and Hoeft — the right of first refusal to buy, lease or develop a 3.9-acre portion of the Sonnentag site. That parcel located on the east end of the site had previously been home to school bus company Student Transit’s offices and garage.

A June 2017 news release issued by the university said the mixed-use building would house university recreation programs, a climbing wall, small restaurant, apartments for up to 350 students and educational areas for studying the Chippewa River. A map drawn up for the project showed a five-story building with a 35,500-square-foot footprint. It even got a name — the Big River Education Center. Majeski and Hoeft created a limited liability company named Big River Education Center in 2017 to further the project, but then opted to dissolve it in March 2021.

By then it was clear that part of the project had been removed.

Way said numerous aspects of the Sonnentag Complex have changed since the project was first announced in 2014.

“Lots of things have happened with the project over seven years,” she said.

Announcements last year about the Sonnentag Complex’s planning showed a 5,000-seat event center, indoor fieldhouse, university athletic offices, a university wellness and fitness center and a Mayo Clinic sports medicine and imaging clinic, but not the building that Majeski and Hoeft had an agreement for.

Instead, the former Student Transit lot would be the location of a 174-stall parking lot — one of three lots bordering the Sonnentag Complex to serve regular users — according to a site plan approved in fall 2021 by the Eau Claire City Council.

The 2017 news release on the Big River Education Center has been removed from the university’s website but can still be found in online archives.

While Blugold Real Estate’s plans no longer include that building, Majeski and Hoeft contend the exclusivity agreement for the former Student Transit site still stands.

“We are disheartened that we have had to take this matter to court since we have held up our end of an agreement, and intended to collaborate and create a state-of-the-art Student Housing and Recreation development at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire,” Hoeft said in a news release issued with the filing of the lawsuit.

Included with the lawsuit’s civil complaint, the exclusivity agreement states that if Blugold Real Estate gets an offer from a third party to buy, lease or develop the former Student Transit site before Dec. 15, 2027, it must notify Southside Holdings and give them the opportunity to do business under the same terms and conditions.

A section of the agreement granting first rights to Southside Holdings for creating the Big River Education Center does end with the phrase “if (Blugold Real Estate) explores such a possibility.”

The document also states that both parties would need to agree in writing about waiving or modifying any terms of the agreement.

The exclusivity agreement was also tied to a land deal that Southside Holdings said it did to help out the Foundation. Southside Holdings purchased 2.6 acres at the northeast corner of Menomonie Street and North Clairemont Avenue in December 2017 for $950,000, according to online land records. That property consists of a single-story warehouse and its large parking lot.

According to the news release issued Wednesday on behalf of the developers, Blugold Real Estate had Southside Holdings buy the property believing it would be needed to build future facilities. The foundation had the developers buy the land on its behalf as it lacked the funds to do so at that time, the news release stated.

The lawsuit is seeking a jury trial to determine damages and order Blugold Real Estate to abide by the exclusivity agreement. The developers are also asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent work on the former Student Transit site, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Way said the lawsuit will not impact the project’s schedule.

“This is not going to delay the Sonnentag project, the construction of the buildings,” she said.

A groundbreaking is scheduled this spring and construction is planned to take about two years, which will allow the May 2024 commencement ceremony to take place in the event center.


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