On the Plaza: After years of planning, Haymarket Plaza plan OK’d

Tom Giffey

IT’S HAPPENING! This artists’ rendering shows Haymarket Plaza looking across the Eau Claire River from Phoenix Park. The Pablo Center is in the background.
IT’S HAPPENING! This artists’ rendering shows the forthcoming bridge to Haymarket Plaza looking across the Eau Claire River from Phoenix Park. The Pablo Center is in the background. Look closer. All images: City of Eau Claire. 

After nearly a decade of meetings, public discussions, sketches, plans, and proposals, the Haymarket Plaza at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers will become a reality in just a few months. On Feb. 27, the Eau Claire City Council approved a site plan for the 1-acre parcel, which is west of the mixed-use Haymarket Landing building and north of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, the arts center slated to open in September.

“Some of the excitement I feel about this project is that citizens were able to come together and to help design this plaza.” – Eau Claire City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle

Plans to transform the former parking lot into a public gathering space began in 2010, two years before the arts center was proposed. City Council members noted that scores of meetings had been held over the ensuing years, which helped shape the ultimate look and feel of the plaza.

“The two things that I took from all of those meetings were that people wanted a gathering place … and they wanted to be able to touch the water, and I think that you have succeeded in providing the community with both of those things,” Councilwoman Kathy Mitchell told City Engineer Dave Solberg after he presented the plan to the council.

LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN. Haymarket Plaza from the air (above), looking east toward Haymarket Landing (upper right), and south at the Pablo Center at the Confluence (lower right).
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN. Haymarket Plaza from the air. Look closer.

Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle added that the plan was close to a “home-run hit” and she was thrilled to vote in favor of it. “Some of the excitement I feel about this project is that citizens were able to come together and to help design this plaza through an exercise called placemaking,” she said. Those placemaking sessions, held in the fall of 2013, used a theory called the Power of 10 to generate multiple ideas and elements for the public space that could have multiple uses.

Haymarket Plaza will be across the river from Phoenix Park, and the two will be connected by a 210-foot-long, 16-foot-wide pedestrian bridge with a wooden deck and overlooks on both sides. But despite their proximity, don’t expect the plaza to be a clone of Phoenix Park. In fact, the designs for the plaza have a decidedly more urban vibe. Instead of a grassy place to gather for contemplation, music, or the farmers market, Haymarket Plaza will be a crossroads of movement, which people coming and going from the Pablo Center, Haymarket Landing, the trails, and nearby downtown streets. Concrete and stone surfaces will predominate over greenery – although there will be some trees as well as a grassy area with boulders scattered in a “logjam” pattern that calls to mind Phoenix Park.

Haymarket Plaza, looking east toward Haymarket Landing. Look closer.
Haymarket Plaza, looking east toward Haymarket Landing. Look closer.

According to city documents, the site plan includes:

• A plaza featuring decorative stone, green space, benches, artwork, and an entranceway to the arts center

• An interactive water feature as well as fire features

• Small gathering areas

• Trail connections along the rivers to the east and south

• A stairway to the water for fishing and recreation

• Bike racks

• Bollard (post) style lighting in the central area of the plaza and shepherd’s hook-style lighting along the trail

Solberg, the city engineer, said work on the plaza will start soon – perhaps even by the time you read this – with the removal of some (but not all) riverside trees. Next, construction will begin in April to extend the riverside retaining wall, which is already in place alongside Haymarket Landing. At the same time, Anderson Bridges will begin fabricating the steel parts of the bridge at its plant in Colfax. The City Council approved a total of $870,000 in bids for the bridge from Anderson, Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, and Market & Johnson of Eau Claire. In an unusual move, two of these firms reduced their bids as donations toward the project. (Anderson trimmed its bid by $50,000 to $395,500 and Market & Johnson shaved off $5,500 to $75,900.)

Haymarket Plaza, looking south at the Pablo Center at the Confluence.
Haymarket Plaza, looking south at the Pablo Center at the Confluence. Look closer.

Solberg said the city hopes that the majority of the work on the plaza is completed by September in time for the grand opening of the Pablo Center.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, Councilman Dave Strobel noted that the city recently won a Best New Development award from Downtown Eau Claire Inc. for the construction of the causeway to Carson Park.

“Looking at this project, if Mr. Solberg submits the bridge and the plaza again next year, you might need a bigger shelf,” Strobel said.

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