A broken downtown Eau Claire park fountain may get replaced next year, but some on the City Council question spending money on an aesthetic amenity in a spot close to a homeless shelter.
The city’s proposed five-year capital projects plan includes $150,000 next year to replace Wilson Park’s fountain.
“It was discovered that the fountain at Wilson Park has failed,” finance director Jay Winzenz said at a meeting on the plan last week.
The city learned in autumn that the fountain stopped working and couldn’t be fixed, leaving the decorative landmark in the park to be covered with a tarp until the city decides what to do with it next.
At last week’s work session on the 2020-2024 capital improvements plan, Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle questioned if the city should spend money on an aesthetic feature when Eau Claire’s ongoing incidence of homelessness is evident nearby at Sojourner House.
“I can’t get it out of my head, the irony is kitty-corner from a fountain is people who line up at 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock at night to line up for a shelter,” she said during the June 25 meeting.
Councilman Jeremy Gragert clarified that the homeless shelter is about a block away from the park, but still close by on South Barstow Street.
Emmanuelle has been vocal that the city’s long-range projects plan does not address Eau Claire’s shortage of affordable housing urgently enough. The plan includes $1.25 million for investments in affordable housing, that’s not until 2022 through 2024.
City Manager Dale Peters said different options for the fountain’s future are being weighed, such as removing it entirely or finding a way to repurpose it.
A survey has gone out to residents in the vicinity to seek their input on what to do about the park’s central feature, but results aren’t in yet, Winzenz said.
Councilwoman Emily Anderson said during the June 25 meeting that replacing the fountain could be a project for the city’s new participatory budgeting program. That effort currently being developed will seek public opinion on what projects residents would like the city to undertake. The proposed projects plan shows participatory budgeting will decide how $100,000 gets spent annually.
Overall, the entire plan shows $61.2 million in city projects next year, which will become part of the 2020 budget pending the outcome of a July 23 vote of the City Council.
A public discussion of the plan is slated for 7 p.m. on July 22 in front of the council at the courthouse, 721 Oxford Ave.
The entire five-year projects plan has a total of $209 million in city projects, though later years often see changes in the timing and costs of projects.