A decision on renaming riverfront land in Eau Claire’s downtown as Veterans Tribute Park is postponed for two weeks — a delay sought by the very group that requested the name change.
Upon conferring with fellow board members of the Eau Claire County Veterans Foundation, the group’s vice president Angela Deutschlander said in an email that the delay would be in the best interest of all parties.
“This gives the Foundation time to explore all of our options and make the right decision about the project going forward,” she wrote in the message delivered Tuesday to Eau Claire city leaders.
After debating whether to postpone for a longer time, the City Council decided unanimously Tuesday to agree to the foundation’s request for a two-week delay on a vote to rename the Forest Street Special Area.
“They are the only applicant that we’ve heard from and made this proposal, so I would think at this time we should be respectful of their wishes,” council President Terry Weld said.
The naming request had created controversy in recent weeks because the Forest Street Community Gardens have used a portion of that 16.8-acre swath of land between an Xcel Energy substation and the city’s Central Maintenance Facility. While the gardens and their shelter will remain intact alongside the $2.2 million project planned by the veterans group, gardeners and representatives of the North River Fronts Neighborhood Association felt the proposed name was not inclusive of all park users.
Councilwoman Kate Beaton felt a longer postponement — two months — would be needed so the park users that have vigorously debated at recent public meetings can come to an accord.
“Based on where tensions are and relations are right now, I don’t think two weeks is enough to solve that,” she said.
Beaton ultimately agreed with the two-week postponement, but the council could again delay making a decision at its July 23 meeting depending on progress made between the different park user groups.
Councilwoman Laura Benjamin said granting the delay the veterans group sought shows the city is still in support of the project.
“It’s my feeling we want to ensure they have the confidence to move forward with the project,” she said.
City Manager Dale Peters pointed out that delaying the naming decision more than two weeks could impact whether the project could be started this year.
The city is scheduled to get contractors’ bids back in early August both for road work on Forest Street and also the first phase of the foundation’s tribute trail.
Councilwoman Emily Berge wanted to know if trail construction will proceed even if the naming issue isn’t resolved.
“That would be up to the veterans foundation,” city community services director Jeff Pippenger said.
The group would need to give the city the “green light” and transfer funds to pay for the first phase of the project — the paved trail and gathering area valued at $700,000.
The project also will include military monuments and future years will add a paved parking lot, trail lighting and public restrooms.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle voiced concern that the controversy over the naming could jeopardize the project.
“What happens if the applicant says we’re not interested in the project any more at this location?” Emmanuelle said. “I would sincerely not want that to happen.”
The notion of having separate names for the veterans area and gardens was dealt a setback on Tuesday.
During Monday night’s public discussion on the renaming, Deutschlander said the foundation had only wanted the Veterans Tribute Park name to apply to amenities it would put there, not the gardens. Pippenger said Tuesday that the original request from the foundation was to rename the entire area.
And in a memo to the council on Tuesday, Peters stated there are no city-owned public areas subdivided with multiple names and starting now is not advised.
“Staff has reviewed this suggestion and would not recommend splitting the parcel as it would be difficult to delineate and manage the boundaries and provide clear signage as well as being confusing to our park users,” he wrote.
Also decided during Tuesday’s meeting:
• A month after cancelling plans to build a roundabout, the council unanimously approved a new design for the intersection at Roosevelt Avenue and State Street that mostly keeps the same traffic flow that exists there now but with a few safety improvements. A pedestrian refuge island between State Street’s traffic lanes on the north end of the intersection, a blinking light pedestrians can activate to cross the street, and more signs cautioning drivers to beware of pedestrians and bicyclists will be added to the intersection that is part of a road construction project already in progress.
• The general public will be able to get guided tours of the renovated Eau Claire City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St., from 3 to 7 p.m. on July 25. Visitors will be able to get a good look at the building improvements during the open house, as furniture, office equipment and city staff will move into City Hall in August.