Turning A New Page
groundbreaking ceremony marks start of downtown’s biggest project ever
After two and a half years of planning, public debate, political campaigning, demolition, and preparation, ground was broken – at least symbolically – on Nov. 11 for the first phase of the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire.
“From an idea gingerly introduced into the public’s mind in May of 2012, to today breaking ground on the first physical manifestation of that idea, finally we lift the corner on the first page of a new chapter in our city’s story,” City Council President Kerry Kincaid told a crowd of several hundred people crammed into the lobby of the State Theatre, a few blocks away from the snow-covered development site. Moments later, Kincaid and a dozen other business, university, and community leaders donned hard hats and grabbed shovels to pose for photos in front of a massive image of the soon-to-be-built Haymarket Landing.
“I look forward to getting this (project) done successfully, and have the community look back and say, ‘That was amazing’ – even those who maybe were skeptical. … I want it to be such a win-win for the community, for the city taxpayers, for the university and our students, that people want to do the next one.”
– UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt
The $25 million project, the most expensive in downtown Eau Claire’s history, will include a combination of retail and commercial space on the first floor with five stories of apartments above. It will be built in the recently demolished block of South Barstow Street overlooking the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. The privately built Haymarket Landing is intended as a companion to a $50 million Confluence performing arts center slated to be built next door. (The performing arts center is a joint project of UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council.)
A fresh blanket of snow prevented a literal groundbreaking, so as they have at many points in the arduous process of bringing the Confluence Project into reality, those involved had to turn to alternate plans, bringing the ceremony indoors. Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, one of the project’s partners, noted that the snowfall was symbolic of the many twists and turns the project has taken.
Haymarket Landing is being built by Haymarket Concepts, a partnership composed of Commonweal Development, Market & Johnson, and Blugold Real Estate, a UWEC Foundation subsidiary. While the 119 apartments at Haymarket Landing will be marketed toward college students (as well as others who might want to live downtown), the facility will be privately owned and operated. The apartments will help alleviated the shortage of on-campus housing, said UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt. “We think this location is going to be perfect,” he added.
Schmidt and others emphasized the collaborative nature of the project and the fact that building Haymarket Landing is just the first step toward completing the Confluence Project as a whole. “This is a beautiful example of a wonderful friendship and partnership,” Schmidt said. “I look forward to getting this one done successfully, and have the community look back and say, ‘That was amazing’ – even those who maybe were skeptical. … I want it to be such a win-win for the community, for the city taxpayers, for the university and our students, that people want to do the next one.”
Jake Wrasse, vice president of UWEC’s student body, echoed that sentiment. “This is not an end to a process,” he said. “It is the beginning of a renewed era of community collaboration and commitment.”
Paul Kohler, chairman of the board of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, told the audience that projects like this one – which involve collaboration among businesses, the university, and local government – are the face of future community development. “This is a game-changer, not just for downtown, but for the whole Chippewa Valley,” he said.
Dan Clumpner of Commonweal Development noted that property tax revenue generated by Haymarket Landing will help fund the performing arts center and an adjacent public plaza. “We mustn’t forget that we’re not going to have a completed project until both this building and an arts center stand majestically on that site over the confluence of those two rivers,” he said.
While the Nov. 11 ceremony was symbolic, actual construction work is underway, with the installation of so-called “geopiers” to stabilize the site soon to begin. Completion of the building is slated for June 2016.