Before shutting off Haymarket Plaza’s fountains as their inaugural season came to a close, the city switched on fire features at the downtown Eau Claire gathering spot for a test run.
Though the fountains have been spurting up from the plaza floor since early July, this was the public debut for natural-gas-fed flames atop two short semicircle walls in the city’s public gathering space outside the Pablo Center at the Confluence.
“It looked fabulous,” said David Solberg, city engineer. “It was everything we had hoped for when we were going through the design process.”
Starting at dusk Tuesday, people wandered over to the plaza for the juxtaposition of fire and water. At about 8:30 p.m., city workers shut the fountains to prepare their pipes for winter and turned off fuel to the flames for the time-being.
Scheduling for the decorative fire features is still being debated among city officials, yet to decide if they should be on regularly or only for special occasions such as festivals or around performances at the neighboring arts center.
“We’re trying to work through what is the best way to operate it,” Solberg said.
Costs of fuel and whether the city chooses to supervise the plaza while the open flames are on also will be considered.
Seeing when people regularly congregate at the plaza and special events that use the space also will influence the city’s plans for turning on the fires, Solberg said.
“We’re waiting to see how people use Haymarket Plaza and try to coordinate our operations schedule with that,” he said.
A feature of the plaza that he’s already declared a success has been the fountain, which drew visitors in the summer that ran through it to cool off in the daytime and admired the multicolored lights that illuminated the jets of water at night.
Solberg expects that when warm temperatures return next spring that the fountain will keep the same schedule of running several times day and night, but not constantly on.
“I don’t anticipate it will be on any less than it was on this year,” he said.
The fountains were turned on July 2 to the public during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the plaza.
Haymarket Plaza’s operating costs came up briefly during Tuesday evening’s 2020 budget work session at City Hall.
The plaza’s fountains are expected to use $19,500 worth of water next year, according to city finance director Jay Winzenz.
Even though the city runs the local waterworks, the state Public Service Commission requires that all water from public utilities be billed — even if the one paying it is City Hall.
“If we weren’t billing ourselves for water, that cost would be paid by all other ratepayers in the city of Eau Claire,” Winzenz explained.
Estimated costs for running the plaza’s fire features were not yet calculated and included in the proposed 2020 budget.
The plaza was designed with more paved surfaces than grass lawn and other landscaping to cut down on maintenance costs. There are no new parks maintenance positions included in next year’s draft budget, meaning that mowing grass patches in Haymarket Plaza is added onto the existing workload those workers have to tend other city parks.
While most of the features are in place, a couple more things are yet to arrive in the plaza. A sculpture specially commissioned for the plaza is anticipated to arrive there before the end of the year. Bistro tables for a seating area near the fountain also are planned for the future.