Groundbreakings planned this spring are postponed and developers are pondering their financial situation before locking into deals, but projects planned for two areas in Eau Claire are still on track, according to a city official.
Eau Claire’s Redevelopment Authority met Wednesday morning via videoconference — the group’s first gathering in three months — to catch up on the status of activity in the Cannery District and North Barstow Street area.
Among those planned projects is the new Children’s Museum of Eau Claire building along with private developer Monarch Ventures’ anticipated restaurant and office building on an empty lot along North Barstow Street, adjacent to a city parking ramp.
”Both of them indicated that with what’s going on it will likely delay any groundbreaking,” said Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager.
Monarch Ventures had originally hoped to start construction this spring, but White said the company has instead gotten a 180-day extension on its memorandum of understanding — the document that precedes a development and purchase agreement with the RDA.
The company needs time to evaluate the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on its other businesses, White said, but has told the city it still is interested in moving forward with the Eau Claire project.
The local museum also continues to make progress on its plans and recently approved final designs for the new building.
Also next to the North Barstow parking ramp is a large lot the RDA continues to market for developers after previous proposals for buildings there ultimately proved financially unfeasible due to construction cost issues.
Creating underground parking had been a requirement for building there, but after some developers stated that makes it too costly, the RDA has hired a local firm to explore the potential for another option.
Architecture and engineering firm Ayres Associates recently was named to crunch numbers and create renderings showing buildings on the block that would encircle a parking structure. The building concept is known as a “Texas doughnut” based on its shape and popularity in southern metro areas, but it is not often seen in the Midwest. The RDA is interested in exploring the idea as it would fit the goal of reducing the amount of surface parking lots to maximize downtown’s development potential.
When the RDA approved a $10,000 budget for hiring a consultant on Feb. 19, the group hoped to get a report back in spring. But the coronavirus slowed down the process of selecting a firm, White said, and a deadline for the work has not yet been set.
Cannery District progresses
Work redeveloping land continues in the city’s Cannery District, which is located on the west bank of the Chippewa River north of West Madison Street.
• Demolition crews from No Mercy Excavating have begun tearing down three old buildings previously bought by the RDA, clearing land for new development. The small gray cinder block building where local brewery The Brewing Projekt began before moving to its new, much larger headquarters is now down and separated into piles of rubble. Demolition has begun on two vacant office buildings nearby at the northwest corner of Platt Street and North Oxford Avenue and that work is expected to finish early next week.
• Construction continues on Cannery Trail Residences, an apartment complex being built on a block just south of the Eau Claire Children’s Theater and north of a Kwik Trip convenience store. Developer W Capital Group learned late last month that $483,430 in low-income housing tax credits were awarded to the project, ensuring that one of its buildings will primarily be apartments priced so people making below the county median income can afford to rent there.
• On the northern edge of the Cannery District, a vacant block of city-owned land along Cedar Street is still in discussions to become the site of future housing. Locally based GRIP Development Corp. remains interested in building affordable housing on the land and is in continuing talks with the RDA, White said.