Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, 2017

Let There Be Lights: Phoenix Park Bridge Display Ready to Shine

GREEN SCENE. Passersby admire the newly installed LED lights on the Phoenix Park pedestrian bridge. The 172 computer-controlled fixtures are capable of producing 252 million colors. The lights will be officially unveiled in a public performance at 7pm Thursday, Oct. 12. After that, they’ll be illuminated nightly.
GREEN SCENE. Passersby admire the newly installed LED lights on the Phoenix Park pedestrian bridge. The 172 computer-controlled fixtures are capable of producing 252 million colors. The lights will be officially unveiled in a public performance at 7pm Thursday, Oct. 12. After that, they’ll be illuminated nightly.

For a split second, the pedestrian bridge in Phoenix Park went dark, and a handful of people crossing it shouted in confusion. In a dazzling moment, their dismay turned to wonder as the bridge was bathed in gradually shifting color – from emerald to sky blue to indigo and beyond – as 172 computer-controlled LED fixtures turned the 526-foot bridge across the Chippewa River into a massive light sculpture. It was after 8pm on a Wednesday evening in late September, but there were still a handful of passersby in the park, and many of them paused to admire and snap cellphone pictures of the colorful display orchestrated by lighting designer Jason Jon Anderson with the help of a laptop computer.

“This is another great example of campus, community, and private  dollars working together to do something great.” – Jason Jon Anderson, lighting designer, on the Phoenix Park bridge lighting

It was only a small taste of the capabilities of the new lights, which were installed on the converted railroad bridge over the summer as part of a $400,000 donor-funded effort. The project – officially known as The River Lights at Phoenix Park – will be officially unveiled at 7pm Thursday, Oct. 12, with a public performance that will show some (but not all) of the array’s capabilities. After that, the lights will be active each day between half an hour after sunset and 11pm. They’ll turn back on at 5am until sunrise for an early-morning display.

“If you think of this as a light sculpture, the light can move in various ways,” explained Anderson, who among other things services as production director for the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival and production manager for Bon Iver. Colors can ripple from one end of the bridge to the other; it can loop around the bridge; it can pulse in time to music. Each fixture includes red, blue, green, and amber lights, and can be programmed to create a mind-boggling 252 million color options. Essentially, the limits of what can be done with this light sculpture are the limits of an artistic programmer’s imagination.

And the emphasis here is on artistry. This is not a gaudy, casino-style display. The light is directed at the structure of the bridge itself, bringing out the character of the century-old steel beams and the huge concrete piers that hold it up. The light dances on the rippling water below, drawing attention to its ever-changing character. Even during a simple demonstration of the lights’ capabilities, the effect is mesmerizing.

The project is a joint effort by the Rotary Club of Eau Claire, Downtown Eau Claire Inc., UW-Eau Claire, and the City of Eau Claire, as well as hundreds of donors large and small. “This is another great example of campus, community, and private dollars working together to do something great,” Anderson noted. Fundraising is ongoing to cover the final $60,000 of the project’s cost. Contractors from B&B Electric worked over the summer to install the lights, leading to frequent closure of the footbridge. Now that the work is complete, the bridge is again fully open.

“I was exceptionally nervous before we turned them on,” admitted Anderson, who is also assistant director of conferences and event production at UWEC. Because of the metal plates needed to attach the lights to the bridge’s beams, the fixtures are 8 to 9 inches from the bridge’s surface instead of the 6 inches originally planned. Thankfully, the change didn’t impact the quality of the light, he said.

Depending on where they are placed, the fixtures shine light horizontally, vertically, or at an angle along the steel beams. The project was designed to be “dark sky” friendly, meaning it minimizes wasteful light pollution. “There is no light on this project that physically goes into the sky,” Anderson explained.

Images: Jason Jon Anderson
Images: Jason Jon Anderson

Programming the lights isn’t a simple process: It takes about an hour of coding per minute of performance, and Anderson is the only one punching the keys for now. However, he’ll be teaching a theatrical lighting course at UWEC in the spring semester, instructing students how to use the software that controls the lights. Eventually, students will be running the show. In fact, after next year they’ll be able to look upriver from the now-under-construction Confluence Arts Center to see their imagination brought to life. While architectural lighting design is a growing field, it’s never been a specific academic discipline anywhere, Anderson said, which means that UWEC students will be getting a truly unique opportunity. Eventually, he envisions programmable lighting on the exterior of the Confluence Arts Center, in Haymarket Plaza, and on the proposed Haymarket bridge as well. He also hopes that if the city and its residents take a liking to the illuminated bridge they will consider installing similar lights on other bridges in Eau Claire.

Anderson expects the bridge to be synchronized with fireworks on Independence Day and New Year’s Eve. At other times, it could be illuminated in time to music or lit with particular colors or patterns on behalf of sponsors.

Whatever the display, Anderson advises the viewing public to look at the bridge from a variety of vantage points and distances. As with any work of art, this sculpture will give viewers a different impression based upon where they stand.

Ultimately, Anderson wants the community to take a shine to the lights, especially after not being able to bike or walk on the bridge for months. “All I hope is that people walk away and say the inconvenience was worth it,” he said.

If you want to learn more about the project or make a contribution, visit LightItUpEC.com

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Monday, Oct. 2nd, 2017

Nearly 20 National Travel Journalists Are Spending Three Days in Eau Claire

As just one part of their stay, visiting travel journalists visited The Local Store to meet some of the area's makers and craftspeople.  
As just one part of their stay, visiting travel journalists visited The Local Store to meet some of the area's makers and craftspeople.  

This week (Sunday–Wednesday) nearly 20 regional and national travel journalists and bloggers are spending three days together in and around Eau Claire on a specially coordinated series of tours through some of our community’s hotels, restaurants, breweries, attractions, retailers, trails, art studios, and more. The event is something the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and their partners have been organizing in different areas in the state for many years – but this is the first time they’ve chosen to bring this highly valuable meetup to our area. To make it all possible, they collaborated with our own local tourism agency Visit Eau Claire to create an ambitious itinerary showing off some of the city's latest developments as well as longtime favorites in our neck of the woods.

These journalists contribute to a variety of travel and lifestyle publications including USA Today, Better Homes and Gardens, Global Traveler, Chicago Tribune, Orbitz Travel, AAA Midwest Traveler, StyleBlueprint, Outdoor Families, and many more. The idea is to create authentic local experiences for these travel tastemakers so they head home inspired to include the Eau Claire area in future coverage of travel destinations, trends, and opportunities. As I’ve written about in recent weeks, the glowing press about the growth in our community continues to pour in – beyond anything we’ve seen in recent decades – and an event like this is likely to amplify that even further in the coming months.

I've been fortunate to spend some time speaking to the group on a couple of occasions during their visit. While my pride for the area was likely apparent, I also stressed that the people who live here every day know there is plenty of work yet to be done. And that’s part of what’s most exciting about our current situation – as small as we are, we’re still very much a place on the rise. Good things are happening all around, yes – but we also know where we fall short, and in many cases someone somewhere is already working on it. There’s still space for new ideas, new people, and new energy. There’s still time to be part of the story. As for what story these national journalists will eventually tell, we’ll have to wait and see. But in the meantime, let’s keep building. And may we never reach the finish line.

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Friday, Sep. 29th, 2017

UPDATED: Shanghai Bistro to Reopen?

Shanghai Sushi
Shanghai Sushi

UPDATED: Friday, Sept. 29 - 4pm

Owner of Local Favorite Shanghai Bistro Wants to Reopen

According to Shanghai Bistro owner Henry Chan, "When Shanghai opened in 2004 sushi was not mainstream. Sushi was very new and exotic in Eau Claire. As Eau Claire's first sushi bar, we talked to a lot of people and suggested they try sushi. One of the most memorable comments we heard often was 'Sorry. We don't eat our bait.'" 

His chefs would prepare a half pint of spicy tuna mix – one of the sushi world's most popular varieties – only to throw the whole thing away. But they kept at it, and eventually Shanghai Bistro (and its sister eatery in Hudson) would go through a whole pint in an hour. By the time the restaurant closed its doors in 2016, things had changed. Sushi had became a relatively common item at asian restaurants in the area and the restaurant had found a loyal customer base attracted to its American-Chinese menu and yes, its sushi. Yet Shanghai still closed. Chan had started other businesses outside of his native Chippewa Valley, and his mother, who'd been running the restaurant in his stead, was ready to retire.

Chan says that while nothing is set in stone, he'd like to reopen the restaurant around the first of the year, with a refresh of both the interior and the exterior.

Now that loyal customer base has reason to rejoice. After months of Chan's mother prodding him to find a way to reopen, Chan, who still owns Shanghai's building at 2930 Craig Road, returned to Eau Claire for a short visit in late September. He hadn't really seen the city in a few years, and driving around town, he was amazed at the recent changes – downtown’s development and a bunch of new, ambitious restaurants. He'd also been keeping tabs on the national attention Eau Claire has received over the past year and a half. All of this boiled down to a big decision: Shanghai Bistro will reopen its doors.

Chan says that while nothing is set in stone, he'd like to reopen the restaurant around the first of the year, with a refresh of both the interior and the exterior. As for the menu, Chan knows he needs to bring back the old favorites – the Chinese dishes and sushi rolls and appetizers that kept people coming back. But he'd also like to offer dishes new to the area. He's experimented with a modern fusion menu at Hudson's Shanghai, seeing what works and what falls flat, and he hopes to liven things up in Eau Claire with a rotating menu of more complex, seasonal edo-style sushi in addition to the standards.

Time will tell how every thing shakes out, but Chan believes the time is right to give Eau Claire – its people and their tastes – another try.

Friday, Sept. 29 - 8:45am

If  Shanghai Bistro's Facebook page is to be believed, the beloved Eau Claire sushi and asian eatery at 2930 Craig Road (which closed last year) will reopen in 2018. From a post on Sept. 28:

When Shanghai opened in 2004 sushi was not mainstream. Sushi was very new and exotic in Eau Claire. As Eau Claire's first sushi bar we talked to [a lot] of people and suggested they try sushi. One of the most memorable comments we [heard] often was " sorry we don't eat our bait"! Fast forward a decade and sushi is now on a staple. Get ready for a new menu that will again bring new flavors to our little town.

And from their Facebook about page ...

This is the original Shanghai Bistro. Established June 4th 2004. Shanghai Bistro is Eau Claire's oldest family owned and operated full service restaurant specializing in American Chinese with sushi. We closed August 2016, but with much [fanfare] we have decided to re-open in 2018 with a new menu.

Se get ready to rejoice, Shanghai lovers.

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Tuesday, Sep. 26th, 2017

YOU: Eau Claire Wants Your Input on Bicycle Issues

Are you a fan of two-wheeled, self-propelled transportation? Do you have opinions on the best and safest ways to pedal around Eau Claire? If so, the City of Eau Claire wants to hear from you. The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is in the process of updating its Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and as part of that effort city planners are revising a map of recommended bicycle routes around town. Take a gander at the proposed routes in this PDF map and then give your feedback to Pat Ivory, senior planner for the city, at pat.ivory@eauclairewi.gov or by calling (715) 839-4914.

As part of updating the plan, the committee is also revising a list of 24 parts of town – from North Dewey Street to Jeffers Road – that have “unique issues relative to the pedestrian and bicycle environment” that the city should address. Bicyclists and pedestrians are also invited to peruse and comment on this list, which can also be found online. The city asks that you make your comments by Monday, Oct. 16. After that they’ll be shared with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

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Tuesday, Sep. 19th, 2017

The Night Market – An Indoor-Outdoor Maker Market and Sale Series

Friday nights Sept. 22 – Oct. 20 • 6pm-9pm • @The Local Store and Volume One Gallery and Courtyard! • 15% OFF STOREWIDE • Every Week: local makers • local food trucks • fire pit • live music • hot cider & snack samples • pre-holiday savings

Volume One and The Local Store are excited to bring back the Night Market – an indoor/outdoor “maker market” and sale series on Friday nights, Sept. 22 – Oct. 20, from 6-9pm. Each night, we'll feature 4–6 different local makers – themselves and their products – in the Volume One Gallery. During the event, we'll also set up a fire pit in our courtyard area, invite local food trucks, host live acoustic music, and serve hot cider and snack samples. Simultaneously, all regular Local Store merchandise is 15% OFF during the Night Market!

See the full schedule of this year's makers, performers, and food trucks!

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Cross-Country TV Series Begins New Season in Eau Claire

WHERE THE RUBBER LITERALLY MEETS THE ROAD. Fireball Run competitors line up during a previous season of the series, which can be viewed on Amazon Prime.
WHERE THE RUBBER LITERALLY MEETS THE ROAD. Fireball Run competitors line up during a previous season of the series, which can be viewed on Amazon Prime.

Fireball Run is a lot of things: a television show, a 2,000-mile cross-country road rally, a life-sized trivia game, an economic development and tourism promotion tool, and even a way to raise awareness for missing children. And this month, Fireball Run will be yet another feather in Eau Claire’s cap: The “Adventurally” series – which can be viewed on Amazon Prime – will kick off its 11th season in Eau Claire on Sept. 23.

The physical setting won’t be the only role the Chippewa Valley will play in the series: One of the show’s 40 teams will be from Eau Claire. Luke Hanson and Julie Thoney will compete as the Xcelerators, so named because the team is sponsored by Thoney’s employer, Xcel Energy.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity for our community to have some more exposure, as far as all the great things that are happening here.” – Julie Thoney, competitor on Fireball Run, which will begin its 11th season in Eau Claire

Thoney, the community service manager at Xcel’s Eau Claire office, acknowledges that she originally declined when asked to take part in the series. “It was a little outside my comfort zone … I don’t want to eat bugs or sleep with snakes,” she said with a laugh. Fortunately, however, those kinds of challenges aren’t part of Fireball Run: In fact, the producers shy away from the term “reality show” when describing the program. They prefer to describe it as “factual entertainment,” because instead of navigating concocted scenarios, participants drive real-world highways and visit real-life sites that viewers can go see for themselves.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity for our community to have some more exposure, as far as all the great things that are happening here,” Thoney said about how Eau Claire will benefit from appearing on Fireball Run. “I think it’s going to highlight some of our businesses and our downtown locations, and it will talk about all of the cultural activities we have here.”

The adventure will begin Saturday, Sept. 23, in Phoenix Park. From roughly 9am to 5pm, visitors will be able to mingle with the teams, check out their vehicles, and see the series being filmed up close. Between 7am and 9am the following day, the cars will line up on nearby Barstow Street, after which the green flag will be waved and the competitors will hit the road for their next destination: Rochester, Minnesota. Over the ensuing eight days, competitors will wind their way across the heartland, hitting Dubuque, Burlington, and Fort Dodge in Iowa and then Vermillion, Yankton, Pierre, and Rapid City in South Dakota. Along the way they’ll see the sights, have unscripted adventures, and distribute posters bearing the images of missing children.

WATCH THEM XCEL. Luke Hanson, left, and Julie Thoney will represent Eau Claire as the Xcelerators.
WATCH THEM XCEL. Luke Hanson, left, and Julie Thoney will represent Eau Claire as the Xcelerators.

Thoney and Hanson, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., have been learning what they can about the cities, gathering maps and gazetteers to avoid getting lost, and building a network of contacts who can help them in various cities. (Competitors sometimes go on scavenger hunt-style quests, so having access to local knowledge helps.)

“Each day we get a mission, and we have no idea what the mission is or where within the particular city it will send us,” Thoney said.

And, because this is a road rally, vehicles play a role, too, with each team providing its own wheels. As befits a vehicle sponsored by a power company, the Xcelerators will be driving a 2017 Ford Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid. Other teams will be traveling in everything from Deloreans to Porches to a 1969 Chevy C-10 panel truck. With its wide array of vehicles and competitors (who include local officials, former Miss Americas, and an original Power Rangers star), Fireball Run a bit of a spiritual successor to the 1981 film The Cannonball Run, albeit without Bert Reynolds, Farrah Faucet, or any of the speeding. (All the vehicles will be tracked via GPS, in part so producers can ensure they aren’t breaking traffic laws.)

While the program will be recorded this fall – and fans will be able to follow the action at fireballrun.com – the completed series won’t be ready to watch until next year. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’ll be able to view the series free on your TV, computer, or other digital device. If you aren’t, you can download individual episodes from Amazon for 99 cents each. (And if you can’t wait until next year to see a Chippewa Valley participant on Fireball Run, you don’t have to: The 10th season of the show, which was recorded in the fall of 2016, included an Eau Claire contestant, Elaine Coughlin.)

Whatever way viewers tune in for her team’s adventures, Thoney is looking forward to the opportunity to promote Eau Claire and to learn more about other communities. “Hopefully we can be good competitors and make the Chippewa Valley and our companies proud,” she said.

Learn more about Fireball Run and how you can watch it at fireballrun.com. To vote for the Eau Claire-based team, the Xcelerators, as the fan favorite, go to www.fireballrun.com/events/2017-big-country/teams/eau-claire-xcelerators.

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Friday, Sep. 15th, 2017

WATCH: Chippewa Valley Restaurant Week on the News

We've officially launched Chippewa Valley Restaurant Week after last week's fantastic kickoff event in Eau Claire's Banbury Place (check out photos). Up above you can watch one of a number of spots on Restaurant Week from WEAU 13 News (who's also a sponsor of the event). You can watch more coverage here and here (warning: that second link has ice cream in it). And there's more to come. 

We're also very thankful for stories from WQOW TV-18 (here and here), Wisconsin Public Radio (here), and the Leader-Telegram (here). 

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Monday, Sep. 11th, 2017

WATCH: Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex Fly-throughs

The huge new arena/recreation/educational facility planned by UW-Eau Claire – officially dubbed the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex – is still a few years in the future, but you can gaze upon it in all its glory (at least virtually) thanks to some animations created by Ayres Associates. The complex is slated to be built on 23 acres donated by the Sonnentag family between Menomonie Street and the Chippewa River. Current plans call for a 5,000-seat major event center (meant as a replacement for Zorn Arena) that could accommodate basketball and hockey games as well as other sporting events, concerts, festivals, and conventions. In addition, the complex would include a recreation, wellness, and fitness facility shared by UWEC, the Eau Claire YMCA, and Mayo Clinic Health System; a mixed-use university building called the Big River Education Center; and possibly other developments, including hotels.

While the animations recently posted by Ayres Associates are preliminary – and therefore likely to differ from the final product – they offer a glimpse of where we could be cheering on the Blugolds in the coming decade. Watch ...

Fly-through One

Fly-through Two

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Tuesday, Sep. 5th, 2017

Check Out Conceptual Drawings for Downtown Eau Claire's Lot 7

RENDER US IMPRESSED! SDS Architects has prepared new conceptual images of what Block 7 in downtown Eau Claire could look like after redevelopment.
RENDER US IMPRESSED! SDS Architects has prepared new conceptual images of what Block 7 in downtown Eau Claire could look like after redevelopment. Check out the close-up images below.

While other buildings – including corporate high-rises, mixed-use apartment complexes, and even a parking ramp – have risen around it in the past decade, the plot of ground in downtown Eau Claire known as Lot 7 has remained undeveloped other than an ordinary blacktopped parking lot.

The lack of construction on the lot isn’t for lack of trying – in the recent past, three different developers have pitched ideas about transforming the property to the city’s Redevelopment Authority. None of the ideas have gained approval – largely for financial reasons – but now the RDA is taking a different approach: In part, it’s thinking smaller. The RDA hired SDS Architects of Eau Claire to develop new conceptual plans for the property, which show multiple buildings on the site.

“We were looking to make an area a hair less dense … than other blocks,” said Mike Schatz, city economic development administrator. “We were looking at things we maybe hadn’t done before.”

Specifically, the conceptual plans feature a four-story residential/commercial structure on the north end of the block, facing Wisconsin Avenue (i.e., across the street from The Livery). On the other side of the block, however, are a half-dozen two-story structures – potentially providing commercial or retail space at street level and living space on their top floors. These smaller buildings, which would face Galloway Street and the side of the new parking ramp to the south, may appeal to entrepreneurs who want to live upstairs from their businesses.

“The thought there is to try and offer a new construction site for a small business to take advantage of building ownership rather than to only have an option to rent,” said Mike Schatz, Executive Director of the RDA. Now that the conception images are out there – they were discussed at a RDA meeting in mid-August – Schatz hopes to get feedback from small businesses and developers alike.

The plans created by SDS contain other eye-catching elements as well. In between the south-facing smaller buildings and the larger structure to the north would be a plaza that could offer a play area, green space, shade structures, a small dog park, or other features.

Like the earlier plans for Lot 7, however, this one could face challenges. Schatz notes that construction costs are on the rise, which could make the price tag of new structures too high for small-business owners. However, other financial factors are more favorable. The RDA rejected earlier proposals for the site because they would have required funding from the special tax increment financing (TIF) district that encompasses part of the neighborhood. (In TIF districts, property taxes generated by new developments are used to offset the cost of the initial projects.) Previously, officials had worried that using too much TIF financing would have made it harder for the district to succeed. However, the passage of a school district referendum in November changed the math: An increase in the amount of taxes collected because of the referendum will make it easier for the TIF to break even.

Schatz said he’s optimistic the latest plans could finally spark viable development on Lot 7. “To me, keeping the momentum going is very important,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed that it’s slowed down.”

Conceptual Drawings of Lot 7 Development

Click the images below for a closer look ...


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Monday, Sep. 4th, 2017

Downtown Victorian OK'd as Overnight Rental

107 Elizabeth Street, Eau Claire
107 Elizabeth Street, Eau Claire

A green Victorian home on the bike trail in downtown Eau Claire will become a bed and breakfast (well, without the breakfast) thanks to zoning approval from the city Plan Commission. Located at 107 Elizabeth St., the 5,264-square-foot multi-family home has three apartments. Two will remain as rentals, while the third and largest will be available for six people on weekends via Airbnb.com. The home has three large bedrooms with queen-sized double beds and two-and-a-half baths. Guests will have free rein to the home, which includes three parlors, a kitchen, a dining room, and a spacious family room in the attic. The view of the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers from its huge windows is unsurpassed. Originally built in 1887 at 904 First Ave., the home’s address was switched to Elizabeth Street when the bike trail was created. While not a designated historic property, it has been selected as one of seven properties featured in this fall’s Historic Preservation Foundation Home Tour from 10am-4pm Saturday, Sept. 23. Owners John and Sharyn Moss love renovating homes together. “Fixing up dilapidated buildings can be so rewarding,” Sharyn shared. “The finished project always brings us joy. … This house was worth saving. She was built strong and stable and just needed some love to bring her back to life.”

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