After donning a striped railroad engineer’s cap and blowing a wooden train whistle, David Strobel conceded that his hopes to return a historic steam locomotive to Eau Claire couldn’t happen by the end of his time on the Eau Claire City Council.
He’d enthusiastically used the same railroad regalia last summer when he’d gotten the council to support the effort to bring Soo Line No. 2719 back to the Chippewa Valley, but the whistle blew a bittersweet note on Tuesday.
“By popular demand, but not quite how I envisioned it,” he said as he donned the blue-and-white cap.
After almost a year of researching ways to transport the locomotive from the Duluth, Minn., train museum where it has resided for several years, Strobel found the move was more costly and faced bigger difficulties than originally envisioned.
On Tuesday, the council voted 10-0 to retain ownership of the locomotive and its tender but lease it to a museum — likely the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth where it is currently stored — with the intent it be returned to operating condition.
If that doesn’t happen, the city would expand the offer for a lease nationwide.
“The last option would be to seek out buyers nationwide,” Strobel said.
He and Councilman Jeremy Gragert said the resolution approved by the council gives the city options for the future, should moving the train become more feasible.
The city did set aside $100,000 in its budget for the move, but Strobel said the lowest estimate from potential transporters was $85,000 above that.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle inquired about what will happen to the $100,000.
The city is just starting to look at its long-range plan for projects it will undertake in 2020 to 2025, and the train transporting money can be reallocated within that.
“We will have $100,000 more in funds to use for community enhancement projects,” finance director Jay Winzenz said.
A portion of hotel room taxes in Eau Claire are used for city community enhancement projects, which usually include work or amenities at Fairfax Park Pool, Hobbs Ice Center and public parks.
Tuesday marked the final council meeting for Strobel and fellow Councilman Michael Xiong, who both did not seek re-election.
“Six years with the council flew by very fast,” Xiong said to his colleagues.
He said he’ll spend his extra time with family but will miss serving on the council.
Strobel, who also served six years on council, thanked his colleagues and wished them continued success. He noted that he was in the minority on numerous key votes during his two terms but felt that his points of dissension led to changes in major projects that had positive outcomes.
“Please consider reasonable amendments, even if you have the majority,” Strobel said to the rest of the council.
Councilman Andrew Werthmann will continue representing District 5 on the council, but Tuesday marked the end of his time as the body’s leader.
“I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to serve as acting president for the last 10 months,” he said.
Werthmann took over after Kerry Kincaid resigned her post as president in June. Councilman Terry Weld won a one-year term as president in the April 2 election. He and three newcomers who won council seats — John Lor, David Klinkhammer and Laura Benjamin — will take their new positions at a meeting next week.
The council also approved these items during Tuesday’s meeting:
• Volume One’s Food Truck Fridays event will be in Phoenix Park this year, offering up a selection of mobile vendors that will sell lunch and dinner on May 3, June 7, July 12, Aug. 2 and Sept. 6.
• UW-Eau Claire got rezoning approval that allows it to proceed with construction this spring on a new $5.5 million visitor center and admissions building on university-owned land on Roosevelt Avenue.
• The Northern Lights Cowboys, an amateur football team that will play this year in Carson Park, will have the ability to sell beer from a city-run concession stand during its home games, based on a Tuesday council vote.
• Eau Claire Transit will continue serving UW-Eau Claire through 2024 with routes specifically designed for serving campus and nearby housing through a new contract. The university will pay a $2 million subsidy during the five-year contract, allowing students and faculty to ride city buses for free by showing their UW-Eau Claire IDs.
• A $1,000 donation from the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance will allow people to ride Eau Claire city buses for free on April 22 — Earth Day.
• A small park was approved for a vacant city-owned lot on the west side of First Avenue, between Chippewa and Niagara streets. The Randall Park neighborhood has volunteered to help landscape the lot and turn it into a space for lawn games and other public recreation.