EAU CLAIRE — A new Children’s Museum of Eau Claire took another step forward Wednesday morning when the city’s Redevelopment Authority signed an agreement to sell land for the building.
Getting unanimous approval from the RDA’s board of directors and already approved by the museum’s leaders, the agreement calls for the new two-story, 23,000-square-foot building to be open by the end of 2022.
The new building would be built on vacant land along North Barstow Street, immediately adjacent to a city parking ramp the museum will rent spaces in.
The museum will lease 25 stalls in the ramp, starting at $40 a month. Specific spots will not be reserved for the museum, but signs above some spots stating they are “family friendly” will indicate they’re close to the museum’s entrance.
RDA board member Connie Pedersen questioned if there is enough room available in the city’s four-level ramp for all the current and future users.
Royal Credit Union and Jamf are primary users of the ramp, though numerous employees are currently working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the museum’s planned usage of the ramp, the city recently approved a five-story building nearby with apartments and commercial space that will use some spaces in the parking structure as well. The RDA is in ongoing talks with Monarch Ventures for a building next to the ramp with a restaurant and office space, which is also expected to need parking.
City Attorney Stephen Nick said the expected use from all of those won’t exceed the ramp’s capacity, but it doesn’t expect to have many spaces left open.
“There is sufficient space for all of those users,” he said.
City Economic Development Manager Aaron White noted that the various ramp users have different times when they’re busy. For example, the office workers park there during weekdays, while the restaurant and apartments planned in the area would drive usage on nights and weekends.
“We feel like this should accommodate their needs,” White said of the parking ramp.
A final purchase price for the museum land was not yet specified as it depends on an upcoming survey to determine the exact square footage needed for the building.
However, the agreement states the museum will pay $10 per square foot and the area planned for the facility is about 20,000 square feet, which would result in a sale price of $200,000.
That price may be adjusted down by the RDA through with up to $105,000 in credits the developer of the site would get for costs incurred for dealing with environmental issues encountered when preparing the land for construction.
In late August, the museum listed its current location for sale with an asking price of $1.4 million.
Whoever buys that building at 220 S. Barstow St. will be subject to property taxes, unlike the museum, which has tax-exempt status.
The deal signed Wednesday with the RDA specifies that the old building will have a minimum assessed value of $500,000 on the tax rolls starting in 2024. That will result in a tax bill of at least $11,528 that needs to be paid in 2025.
Having taxable property in that section of downtown is important to the city as it is in a tax increment financing district.
“We will see a net gain in the TIF,” White said.
Taxes on properties in that area help pay for improvements the city makes there to encourage new development.
The children’s museum has been closed for the past 1½ months due to financial challenges tied to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. The onset of the pandemic caused the museum to close from mid-March to early July, but it closed again at the end of July to prevent it from depleting cash reserves while attendance and sponsorship were both down.
Talks continue for eatery, offices
The RDA also decided Wednesday morning to continue talks with a developer planning to build a restaurant and office space next to the planned children’s museum.
The board unanimously voted to extend its memorandum of understanding with Monarch Ventures of Hudson through the end of this year.
“They’re still very interested in the site,” White said. “They’re still looking or tenants in the office space.”
He attributed the extended talks to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have greatly impacted the restaurant industry.
Still seeking developers
Seeking to inspire and attract developers to build on a downtown surface parking lot, the RDA reviewed a new batch of conceptual designs for what’s possible on the site.
Five different concepts created by local architectural firm Ayres Associates were presented Wednesday, showing different combinations of buildings and structured parking for the lot.
Conceived mostly for apartments, designs for the buildings included some ground-floor commercial space.
Ayres recommends the development be two separate buildings so it can be built in phases. The firm suggested that a total of 150 apartments, 5,000 square feet of commercial space and structured parking would be an ideal size for the project.
The firm estimates that will cost a developer $31.5 million to build.
The RDA has been marketing the block at the northwest corner of North Barstow and Galloway streets for several years and had previously signed agreements with developers. However, those previous plans have faltered over cost concerns with the RDA’s requirement the development include underground parking cited as a major issue. The land has been a temporary parking lot since 2013, originally paved to serve the area before the neighboring parking ramp was completed.