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Couple give twin $1M gifts to Pablo Center, UW-Eau Claire
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EAU CLAIRE — Brady and Jeanne Foust share a lifelong love of geography and the arts.

On Thursday the Fousts backed up their matching passions with twin $1 million gifts — one to Pablo Center at the Confluence and the other to UW-Eau Claire, where Brady taught geography for 37 years.

In a news conference announcing the donations, Brady said he was involved with efforts to establish a performing arts center in Eau Claire starting in the 1970s and was thrilled to see the 2018 opening of Pablo Center, which he called “one of the gems in the redevelopment of downtown Eau Claire” and an important economic development tool. He also noted that he never expected to stay in Eau Claire for more than a couple years.

“But I fell in love with the university, I fell in love with the city, I fell in love with the state of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Idea, and I really fell in love with my students,” Brady said. “I loved every minute of teaching here, every minute of my life here in Eau Claire, and I’m glad we’re able to do something to support both institutions.”

For Jason Jon Anderson, executive director of Pablo Center, the Fousts’ “exceptionally rare” gift can be summed up in three words: “Incredible lasting legacy.”

“For an organization of our nature and our size, this is monumental,” Anderson said. “This is a game-changing and spring-boarding experience and a great way to launch our capital campaign.”

The donation launches Pablo Center’s $7 million Turn It Up To Eleven fundraising campaign, which focuses on the retirement of its remaining $5 million in capital construction debt along with the funding of two lasting endowments. The endowments will go toward increasing access to events and expanding programming for K-12 students.

“The arts — music, performance, the visual arts, the written word — are an important part of our lives, and we want to help continue that legacy here,” Brady said.

At UW-Eau Claire, the Fousts’ donation will establish the Brady Foust Geospatial Analysis and Technology Double Major Scholarship.

The couple are providing $500,000 to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation for the scholarship this year and another $500,000 in 2022, said Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

Each Foust scholarship recipient at UW-Eau Claire will receive $10,000 a year for a total of $40,000 over four years. Two scholarships will be available to students entering the university in 2022-23 and two more to students entering in 2023-24. The fund eventually may provide four scholarships per year.

Recipients must major in the geography and anthropology department’s geospatial analysis and technology program while maintaining a 3.0 GPA. They also must have a second major to help them become highly sought after in many career areas following graduation.

“What we’re doing with this scholarship is we’re attracting students from different disciplines, and actually you see that in today’s society location technology is everywhere,” Jeanne said, listing hydrology, public health and political redistricting as examples. “The idea is that geospatial technology helps geography break out of its own boundaries, and this scholarship will enable students who aren’t aware of the technology that geospatial brings to their own fields.”

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt praised the generosity of the Fousts and their commitment to the university and its students.

“With his passion, expertise and his vision, Dr. Foust helped UW-Eau Claire’s geography department become one of the top programs in the country, preparing countless Blugolds to be innovators and leaders in the rapidly changing world of geospatial technologies,” Schmidt said. “Now, through this generous gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, (the Fousts) are making it possible for future generations of geographers to pursue their dreams of taking geospatial technologies to the next level.”

After Brady’s retirement, he was one of three founders of HazardHub which quickly became one of the leading providers of geospatial hazard data to the insurance industry. It was purchased by Guidewire Software in August. Jeanne Foust retired this year after a 30-year career at Esri, the world’s leading geographic information systems software producer.

During Pablo Center’s construction, Brady conducted over 60 tours of the work in progress. He remains a member of the Confluence Council Board, with his term as past president ending this month.

The confluence of factors made it a perfect time to make the donations, agreed the Fousts, who hope their action sparks more gifts to causes near and dear to their hearts.

SAWDUST STORIES: Arts lover Bill Foy enjoyed the best seat in the house
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If Bill Foy were writing this article, it’d be a better article. He’s had a lot more practice at it.

For 38 years, Leader-Telegram readers have been the beneficiaries of Bill’s writing and editing. Since September of 1983 he’s served in various roles with the paper, from copy editor to entertainment editor. Tens of thousands of editions later, Bill’s filing his final story.

In about 1979, while Bill was attending Marquette University and working part time as an editorial assistant (aka copy kid) at The Milwaukee Sentinel, the paper assigned him to cover legendary blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Terry and McGhee had been touring together since 1942, McGhee’s guitar playing and vocal style were a perfect fit for Terry’s rhapsodic harmonica work and singing.

Twenty-two-year-old Bill watched their jaw-dropping performance from the back of a Milwaukee club, and at the show’s conclusion, approached the duo for a few quotes for his article.

“I was a nervous kid, and I didn’t quite know what to do,” Bill said.

He spoke briefly to Terry and had a more extended conversation with McGhee, though after asking a rather convoluted question, the imposing musician lifted an eyebrow toward the greenhorn reporter and said, “You’re gonna have to offer me some kind of explanation for that.”

Nevertheless, the interview proceeded. At its conclusion, Bill asked, “Can I help you carry your gear?”

McGhee smiled. Now he was speaking his language.

Bill and McGhee descended into the night, the former lugging the latter’s guitar to the parking garage across the street.

“You better be careful with that,” McGhee warned, nodding toward the guitar. “That’s how I make my living.”

Bill’s interaction with McGhee stuck with him throughout his career.

“It taught me to make sure I always come prepared with questions,” Bill said. But it also taught him that musicians, and all artists, are just people. People who, on occasion, need a little help carrying their guitars.

Over the years Bill has landed interviews with any number of major entertainers (comedians Louie Anderson and Paula Poundstone, among them), though his most memorable experiences (and best-read stories) often feature artists closer to home.

In the mid-1990s, renowned jazz musician and UW-Eau Claire music professor Bob Baca invited Bill to join him in the pit orchestra at St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for a touring production of Broadway’s “Show Boat.”

Seated alongside the musicians in the dark, Bill listened as the show burst to life by way of the music. No matter that he couldn’t see the action on the stage, Bob and the other musicians helped Bill hear the show in full.

That magical evening has long stayed with Bill, and it’s stayed with Bob also.

“I was so proud to have a person from our hometown community wanting to feel the same musical electricity as I did while performing in a 2,600 sold out crowd [at] the Ordway theater,” Baca recently shared.

Bill and Bob Baca became fast friends; their friendship forged in mutual admiration for one another’s artistry. Bill considers Baca an “inspiration,” while Baca considers Bill a “humble servant of the Eau Claire arts community.”

Bill’s humility—both in life and on the page—deserves its own headline above the fold. In the era of self-aggrandizement, Bill has always preferred to shine the spotlight on others rather than seek it out himself. It’s a lesson he learned during his early years at the Milwaukee Sentinel, when, while recounting his memorable guitar-lugging experience with Brownie McGhee, a senior editor remarked, “Don’t pontificate. Get out of the way and let [McGhee] tell the story.”

The advice stuck and proved a centerpiece throughout Bill’s career.

While his writing has long elevated artists throughout the region, his mentorship has proven equally valuable for fellow writers. Eau Claire writer-in-residence Ken Szymanski credits Bill for his first professional writing opportunities 25 years ago.

“I had a blast helping Bill cover Rock Fest and Country Fest,” Szymanski said. “It was fun to interview some of the stars, but I appreciated how he treated local artists with just as much care and importance. And I admire how Bill never became the clichéd ‘crabby critic.’ His enthusiasm for the arts always shined through.”

After decades of writing about entertainment, Bill has learned a few lessons about what entertains his own readers.

“They want to read about themselves,” he said. “They want to read about their friends and neighbors.”

While we readers appreciate the wider world of arts, the artists we’re most excited to support are those we might run into at the gas station or the grocery store. This seems a logical conclusion given the Chippewa Valley’s uniquely collaborative spirit.

“Everybody gets along here,” Bill said. “Everybody collaborates.”

Such a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats approach has served our city well, and it’s provided Bill plenty of copy over the years.

Reflecting on his career, Bill leaves the Leader-Telegram knowing that he was always in the right place, particularly behind the entertainment desk.

“I’m not someone who hunts, or fishes, or golfs,” Bill said, “I simply love the arts. And what an incredible privilege it’s been writing about them.”

But the true privilege is ours. Especially those of us who for years have been fortunate enough to read the articles beneath Bill’s byline.

If Bill Foy were writing this article, it’d be a better article. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to incorporate a few of Bill’s tricks here. Most notably, by proceeding humbly in the service of celebrating a great artist. No one deserves that treatment more than Bill. And no one does it better.

Revaluation notices going out Friday to Eau Claire property owners
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EAU CLAIRE — Homeowners, businesses and landlords are soon to receive notices of how much their property values have changed following recent rises in home prices and COVID-19 hurting demand for offices.

About 25,000 assessment notices are going in the mail today(Friday), alerting property owners to the new values the city will use to calculate how much they must pay in taxes.

“The goal is all property be assessed at fair market value,” Finance Director Jay Winzenz said.

Required by state law to determine everyone’s “fair share” for local property taxes, revaluations are done every few years to bring the city’s assessed value closer to how much land and buildings would sell for on the open market.

The city’s process began last fall and ended recently, using sales records, visual observations, building permits, on-site visits and other evidence to determine the value for homes and businesses in Eau Claire.

Eau Claire does revaluations every three to five years — depending on the volatility of the real estate market, city Assessor Heidi Ender said. The city’s previous revaluation was done in 2018.

This time there was an average 18% increase in assessed value among residential, commercial and certain kinds of business-related equipment subject to taxes. (Industrial properties such as factories are assessed by the state government, separate from the city’s process.)

Fueled by a hot market in recent years, houses rose in value by 23% on average, according to Ender.

“What we found citywide is homes sold for significantly higher than they did several years ago,” she said.

Apartment buildings also appreciated in value above the overall city average, she added.

Meanwhile, office buildings didn’t have the same value growth because demand for them diminished during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people worked from home.

The newly established value of properties in Eau Claire will be used in tax bills that will be sent out in December and due for payment in 2022.

Taxing misconception

Winzenz and Ender spoke via videoconference Thursday morning with the Leader-Telegram to address common myths that circulate when a revaluation happens.

The main misconception people have is that their property taxes will rise by the same percentage that their assessment did.

“Just because your property value goes up doesn’t necessarily mean your property tax bill is going up correspondingly,” Winzenz said.

The property tax levy — the total amount the city can collect for government services and projects — is subject to state limits and city policies on borrowing.

And local tax levy increases have been far smaller than the degree that property values have been rising. For example, the city’s tax levy increased by only about 2% in the 2021 budget.

The tax revenue limits remain in place for the city’s upcoming budget talks, which will take place this fall and determine the 2022 property tax levy.

“This isn’t being done as an additional revenue source for the city,” Winzenz said of the revaluation. “It’s being done to ensure equity between different types and classes of property within the city of Eau Claire to make sure they’re paying their fair share.”

And for homes that grew in value less than the 23% average for residential property, their owners will likely see those property tax bills decline, he said.

How it works

Home sales from 2019 and 2020 were the most important piece of the revaluation, as those prices were used to model how comparable houses that are not on the market would be valued, Ender said.

The revaluation process also involves looking at each property from the street to see if any significant changes to the buildings can be spotted from an exterior look at them. Starting last fall, every assessor in Ender’s office spent time driving by properties to see if they appeared to change when compared to records from the last revaluation three years ago.

Assessors also will follow up on building permits to see if homeowners did any major renovation projects like finishing a basement that would boost their property’s value.

In typical years, assessors also like to get a quick look inside recently sold homes with owners’ consent after its sold to verify information about its interior.

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, those quick tours have been substituted with information found on real estate websites, questionnaires sent to the new homeowners, photos submitted by them and even a few virtual tours inside of those homes.

For commercial properties open to the public, the assessors did go inside of them to look for changes in them that would impact their values.

Challenging assessments

For those seeking to correct an error or contest their assessment, there are opportunities to do so.

Open book hearings — informal meetings with assessors — are available from Tuesday through Friday, Sept. 10 and on Sept. 13. Property owners are asked to email or call ahead to schedule an appointment.

If an owner still disagrees with their property’s value following that, they can take their challenge to the formal Board of Review on Oct. 4.

Property owners are advised to review the assessment notices they will soon receive to verify information in them, such as room counts, is correct. Any errors discovered should be brought to the attention of assessors at this month’s open book hearings.

For those who want to contest the amount their property is assessed at, Winzenz said records of a recent sale of the property is the strongest evidence to argue for a change. Beyond that, recent sales of comparable homes in the same neighborhood also would be good to have to argue for a valuation change. Appraisals can also be submitted, he said, but don’t hold as much weight as recent sales information.

For the upcoming open book meetings, Ender is anticipating between 100 and 150 calls from property owners, based on her previous experience.