Wednesday, Jul. 13th, 2016

Can City Leaders Make Room for World-Class Beer?

Conceptual art of The Eau Claire Brewing Project's proposed expansion at 1807 Oxford Avenue
Conceptual rendering of The Eau Claire Brewing Project's proposed expansion at 1807 Oxford Avenue.

Understand this: Will Glass’ The Brewing Projekt is producing world class beer. World Class. By collaborating with the Danish brewer Mikkeller to produce an American Pale Ale for the upcoming Eaux Claires Music Festival, Glass’ beer will soon find distribution in bars and tap-rooms from Copenhagen to Tokyo, Seoul to Reykjavik. Whether or not you’ve heard of Mikkeller or not isn’t important, though, I might recommend reading the 2014 New York Times Magazine feature that essentially crowns Mikkeller as a global tastemaker. And whether you drink beer or not isn’t important. What is important, is that a Chippewa Valley native is operating on a level of creativity and craftsmanship that is commendable on a global stage.

Innovation is the buzzword now in brewing,” says Michael Agnew, a Minneapolis-based beer writer and educator and founder of www.aperfectpint.net. “In the name of innovation, everyone is pushing how much stuff they can put into beer. But not many of them are doing it well. At The Brewing Projekt, innovation is key, but quality comes first.”

Kathy Flanigan, a writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel goes a step farther: “Will has a passion for brewing that is so far unchallenged among the many brewers I’ve interviewed as a beer writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The guy clearly loves making beer, otherwise he wouldn’t attempt brewing 50 beers a year. He wouldn’t take risks with ingredients or collaborations like the one he’s doing with Mikkeller Brewing. He would step slowly and roll out one or two beers then rest on the laurels of satisfied customers and empty pint glasses.”

And Glass is hoping to continue his innovation and creativity right where he started, in downtown Eau Claire. But this beer scientist has outgrown his laboratory and he’s in search of new digs.

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This is an entrepreneur who will find a way to succeed. He’s already done it. The question is, do we as a community push him forward? Does that success stay here, in Eau Claire?

More than a year ago, already hard pressed to keep up with surging demand and quickly outgrowing his humble cinder-block space, Will started looking for sites that could better accommodate the Brewing Projekt’s expansion. A natural solution stood literally across the street, at 1807 N. Oxford Ave. At that time, the building was privately owned, but shortly thereafter, in June 2015, the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority purchased the property. The acquisition was part of the RDA’s plan to assemble property to support the redevelopment of the west bank of the Chippewa River north of Madison Street, an area known as the Cannery Redevelopment District. Undeterred by the change in ownership, Will approached the RDA with a proposal to headquarter his growing brewery on the site.

The negotiations, which began in March, are still ongoing, but what seems to be becoming clear are the conflicting visions for the Cannery District. Does it become green space, another park along the riverfront? An office park? Or does it also preserve a part of our history – indeed, does it preserve what original buildings there remain? Is its very name just a New Urbanist gesture, a catchy moniker that motions to a bygone past, like naming a new cul-de-sac sub-division Wilderness Way?

An expanded Brewing Projekt would kick-start the entire district, unifying a vision already in embryonic form with the new Lazy Monk beer hall down the road. It would save, reinvent, and reinvigorate a building in need. It would provide construction jobs, brewing jobs, food service jobs. Aesthetically the neighborhood would be transformed, and from a crime perspective, business and customers alike would naturally “police” an otherwise poorly trafficked and dimly lit corridor of our city. And, it is something that, as a community, we don’t have to wait for, hope for – Glass is poised and ready right now to expand, invest, succeed.

Glass proved himself a dedicated member of the Cannery District long before it became chic to imagine redevelopment along that stretch of the Chippewa River. In so many ways, he has been patient, growing his business from nothing in humble environs. Upon meeting Glass, a person is left no choice but to cheer for him. A big bear of a man with a thick brown beard, he’s engaging, humble, and – despite the more than occasional roadblocks erected before him – always magnanimous, always graceful. This is an entrepreneur who will find a way to succeed. He’s already done it. The question is, do we as a community push him forward? Does that success stay here, in Eau Claire?

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“Honestly, in this new age of craft brewing and local artisanship, I can’t believe we are debating the merits of preserving an old building and offering visitors river views and a destination brewery versus office space,” stated Kevin Revolinski, author of The Best Beer Guide to Wisconsin.

“Look around the state,” he continued. “Clusters of successful breweries in places such as Madison, Green Bay, Wausau, are confirmed tourist magnets. News of Lazy Monk’s recent expansion spread like wildfire on the Internet. And now within walking distance, The Brewing Projekt aims to create another destination brewery. How is this not going to be a boon to tourism for the city? Plus other businesses who want to tap into that steady stream of visitors are going to thrive here as well. It’s synergy.”

Will Glass has created something special. The world is recognizing his work. Will we rally to his side?

Projekt Rally

The Brewing Projekt will be holding a “Projekt Rally” to promote its proposed purchase of a building that would allow it to expand. The rally will be from 5pm to midnight Friday, July 15, at the brewery’s current site, 2000 N. Oxford Ave., Eau Claire, and will include walk-by tours of the proposed new site, 1807 N. Oxford Ave. The event will include live entertainment, food from Tutto Bene Wood Fired Pizza, and (naturally) beer.

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Pokémon Geau Claire: 7 Things About Pokémon Go in Eau Claire

Venonat on S. Barstow Street.
Venonat on S. Barstow Street.

Pokémon Go has hit America like a storm, and Eau Claire is no exception. Sizable crowds of phone-wielding Pokémon Trainers can be regularly seen from the mall to downtown. 

As a brief recap, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game in the two decades old franchise of everyone’s favorite magical, highly destructive creatures. In this latest take on the series, the game informs players of nearby Pokémon. Looking through the smartphone will then reveal a Pokémon digitally placed in the real world, which the player then can attempt to catch and collect. After all, you gotta catch’em all.

The game is a mixture of wish fulfillment and nostalgia for generations of Pokéfans across the world and in the Chippewa Valley. But let’s take a look at seven facts about Eau Claire's Pokémon Go scene. 

Local Squirtle
Local Squirtle

1. In a city of rivers, water-type Pokémon abound.

With how significant the rivers are to the identify of Eau Claire, it’s cool to see that reflected in what Pokémon are available. Even the relatively uncommon Squirtle pops up pretty frequently here. Try the UWEC campus, North River Street, and Oak Pointe Plaza for the fan-favorite water shooting turtle.

2. The Sculpture Tour and parks are keys to success.

If you haven’t noticed already, each sculpture on the Eau Claire Sculpture Tour is a feature in the game. Planning a walk along Water Street, Downtown, or through Phoenix Park is a surefire way to stock up on Poké Balls, but also to see some amazing artwork!

3. Meet your fellow Pokémon trainers.

Chances are that while you’re outside, you’re going to see lots of fellow trainers scanning their surroundings for that rare catch. It isn't often (outside of festivals) that hundreds of people walking around town are all doing the same thing – so see who you can meet and what you can learn about your town.

4. Catch Eau Claire. 

Pokémon Go is an amazing opportunity to go explore that part of Eau Claire you’ve never been to. You know which one I mean. There might be a Vulpix hiding there, or in your new favorite park or coffee shop. See what's happening in other cities!

Pokémon Go players on Barstow Street, downtrown Eau Claire. Photo: Tyler Moen
Pokémon Go players on Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire. Photo: Tyler Moen

5. The game is bringing people together in amazing ways. 

On the Sunday night of the first weekend with Pokémon Go, over 100 people were clustered around the intersection of N. Barstow and Wisconsin streets. How did this happen? In the game, you can use a special item called a lure to attract Pokémon to a specific location in the real world. Someone had set up four of them at that intersection, and the rest was magic.

6. Local businesses can benefit from the PokéCraze, too. 

Businesses around the country are offering discounts to Pokémon Go players, or even using the lures themselves to attract potential customers to their business. Exploring for Pokémon is hungry work, and trainers I've talked to are more than willing to engage a business that engages them back. 

Spearow
Angry Spearow downtown

7. The Volume One World Headquarters? 'Tis no exception.

Here at the Volume One World Headquarters & Local Store, you might just see a Drowzee, Krabby, Kingler, Bellsprout, Magnemite, Eevee, or Magikarp. Maybe even a Gastly or Porygon too, if you’re lucky!

What are your crazy Pokémon Go stories? Have you seen any small businesses engaging with players? What have you found roaming around in Eau Claire? Let us know in the comments ...

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Carson Park Bleacher, Bridge Upgrades Coming up in City Budget

Concept art for a new causeway into Carson Park
Concept art for a new causeway into Carson Park

The long-awaited replacement of the causeway into Carson Park – as well as upgrades to the park’s baseball bleachers and improvements to Fairfax Pool and Hobbs Municipal Ice Center – were tentatively OK’d by the Eau Claire City Council Tuesday. The council voted unanimously to approve a five-year capital improvement plan for the city, which includes $35 million in infrastructure projects slated for 2017. The spending won’t be officially approved until November when the City Council votes on the 2017 city budget.

Among the highlights of the capital improvement plan are $2.25 million to replace the 1930s-era bridge and causeway that carry Lake Street into Carson Park as well as $2.45 million to replace the 40-year-old bleachers that are shared by the park’s baseball and football fields. In addition, the O’Brien Rink at Hobbs Municipal Ice Center will undergo $1 million in upgrades – including new locker rooms, storage, office space, and a press box redesign – in part to allow the rink to be home for a North American Hockey League franchise. At Fairfax Municipal Pool, $75,000 has been earmarked to rebuild outdoor locker rooms and create a dedicated first aid room, and $60,000 will be set aside to install a less-slippery floor in the bathhouse and concession area. The capital improvement plan also includes a host of lower-profile (but important) projects, including maintaining sewer and water lines and replacing city equipment such as buses and fire trucks.

Overall, the capital improvement plan outlines $181 million in projects between 2017 and 2021. However, only the projects for 2017 will be funded by next year’s city budget; projects slated for the following four years are included in the document for long-term planning purposes. In the latter category: The 2018 budget includes $6.25 million for a new bus transit center to replace the “temporary” building put up in 1984.

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What Will It Cost to Park in the New Downtown Ramp?

A conceptual drawing of the four-level parking ramp from BWBR Architects.
A conceptual drawing of the four-level parking ramp from BWBR Architects.

What can you get for 50 cents? A can of soda (if you’re really lucky)? A first-class postage stamp (with change)? Now, a couple of quarters will also get you an hour of parking in the brand spanking new parking ramp on North Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire. The Eau Claire City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve fees for the soon-to-open 769-spot ramp, which stands along North Barstow near Phoenix Park. Users will be charged 50 cents an hour with a maximum 24-hour fee of $8. These fees will be collected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (In other words, there’s no off-hour free parking to be had.)

The council resolution also set special-event parking at $5 and the monthly parking contract at $42. Several council members advocated for letting users park free for the first three hours, but that idea was rejected on a 7-4 vote.

According to Leah Ness, a transportation engineer with the city, the ramp is on track to open Sept. 1. While the structure was complete enough for several City Council members to attend a walk-through Tuesday, workers are still completing pavement marking, installing signs, and doing electrical and landscaping work.

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Eau Claire Public Market Concept a No-Go

Milwaukee Public Market
Milwaukee Public Market

If the City of Eau Claire ends up pursuing a public market, it shouldn’t be a traditional large-scale public market nor should it be in the Cannery District on the west bank of the Chippewa River.

Those are among the preliminary recommendations of a consultant, Ted Spitzer of Market Ventures Inc., who was hired by the city and who is expected to present a full report to the City Council by the end of September.

Associate city planner Ned Noel said Spitzer addressed the question of whether Eau Claire could support the kind of year-round, multi-vendor indoor public market found in larger cities such as Milwaukee. “Based off of all of his research, he said it’s not a winning strategy,” Noel said.

Several factors make that kind of market challenging in Eau Claire, Noel noted. First, with just under 68,000 people, there simply aren’t enough shoppers in the city to make the market viable. Second, there isn’t enough disposable income in town, either.

Eau Claire shoppers have a frugal mentality, which makes the often higher-priced foods found at a public market a harder sell, Noel noted. Furthermore, there is a plentiful supply of cheap foods available at existing supermarkets to meet consumers’ demands, he said.

Eau Claire shoppers have a frugal mentality, which makes the often higher-priced foods found at a public market a harder sell, Noel noted. Furthermore, there is a plentiful supply of cheap foods available at existing supermarkets to meet consumers’ demands, he said.

As part of the research, meetings were conducted with vendors and food entrepreneurs, and such suppliers offered only noncommittal support for a public market, Noel said. Few of them wanted to be involved in retailing from the more permanent, brick-and-mortar space a public market would provide.

If you were a big fan of the idea of a public market, all of this is the bad news. So here’s the good news. Spitzer, the consultant, believes there are enough assets – including farmers markets, brewpubs, farm-to-fork restaurants, etc. –  in Eau Claire to do something that will help coalesce and expand the city’s food scene. Noel says the consultant has recommended creating a “market district” downtown that would brand the neighborhood around food and culture. Part of this could be a hybrid public market that would be driven by private entrepreneurs instead of public spending.

“It’s pretty bold,” Noel said of the concept of a market district, “and I think we’re still wrestling with what it all looks like.”

The consultant’s preferred site for such a development is an area known as Block 7 – currently a city-owned parking lot at the corner of Wisconsin and North Barstow streets. The city’s Redevelopment Authority owns the block and is seeking a private developer to build there. A market-oriented development could involve a grocery store, a restaurant that also housed vendors, or any number of other related combinations of food-related businesses, Noel said.

The Cannery District – the name given to a largely vacant former industrial area north of Madison Street along the Chippewa River – was initially considered an appealing site for a public market because of its history (there were canneries there decades ago) as well as because of the hope it could be a catalyst for reviving the neighborhood in much the same way as the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market was for the North Barstow area. The city’s Redevelopment Authority, which owns much of the property in the district, is still formulating a long-term vision for the neighborhood, and the consultant’s report may impact that, said Mike Schatz, the city’s economic development administrator.

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Tuesday, Jul. 12th, 2016

Visualizing Eaux Claires 2016: The festival’s slate of art installations goes big & bold

The work of artists Edoardo Tresoldi (above) and Gregory Euclide (below) will be featured amongst the 26 art installations planned for this year’s Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival.
The work of artists Edoardo Tresoldi (above) and Gregory Euclide (below) will be featured amongst the 26 art installations planned for this year’s Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival.

Talking with Michael Brown, the creative director of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, just a handful of weeks before the homegrown fest opens the gates for its second year, there’s this idea that keeps coming up: This is a festival that’s still trying to be understood.

With acts like The National, Sufjan Stevens, the Indigo Girls, and Spoon along for the ride, last year’s inaugural musical successes were lauded pretty heavily, but what truly made this festival unique was that second word in the masthead: Arts.

“These projects are meant to put you in the mindset that you’re a part of this and you’re participating ... It’s everybody coming together and making something.” – Michael Brown, creative director, Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival

HOTTEA’s rainbow-colored yarn streams, the “Big Eaux” sign lit up with custom projection-mapping, the domes with all kinds of noisy and strange experiments going on inside, the quirky staging of performance piece “Forever Love,” confessing your sins to Astronautalis, and parades marching through the grounds like clockwork all would’ve made for one heck of a weekend even if the indie rock brass didn’t show up.

This year’s musical lineup, which includes Bon Iver, Erykah Badu, James Blake, Beach House, Bruce Hornsby, and a huge Grateful Dead tribute, has been out there for a while now. But when you hear about some of the experiential art installations and performances, it really starts to become real as you envision yourself there taking in the Eaux Claires experience once again.

People who are only thinking about what bands they’re going to see are missing a really substantial chunk of what this festival is about. And with an art program of 26 different installations and performances – almost double last year’s number – the experience of being there is taking hold as one of the festival’s most exciting features.

“The goal isn’t necessarily for the festival to be a showcase of art. It’s to break down the barrier of people expecting to just see music on stages,” Brown said frankly. “It’s about how different genres of art can come together and blur the lines between each other. And hopefully it becomes a whole big mash of everything. That’s kind of what this festival is.”

This year’s slate of art is keenly ambitious, invites an array of collaboration, gets attendees involved, and goes bigger and bolder than ever.

It won’t get much bigger than “Baroque,” an enormous, ornate cuboid structure of metal mesh by Italian sculptor Edoardo Tresoldi. It’s essentially a massive baroque organ in the center of the grounds where the likes of world-renowned organist James McVinnie and Griffin McMahon will periodically produce sweet tones throughout the weekend. It’s a sharp and lovely redefinition of musical performance and fine art.

Gregory Euclide
Gregory Euclide

Along the banks of the Chippewa River, Portugal-based artist collective THNDRPPL (which includes Eau Claire native Trever Hagen) will lay down “RIVERPODS,” a series of installations that gives the nuances of the Chippewa’s flow a visual representation with underwater recordings and more. And after nightfall, the pods illuminate with glimmering reactive light.

What was a VIP area last year will be transformed into a quieter public space that acts as a reprieve from festival overload. It’s a wide area where people can rest and chill. A smaller stage will be set up for the lineup’s more ambient/classical performances by “Bonnie” Prince Billy, eighth blackbird, and Bryce Dessner, all vibed out by a floral installation called “Momentary Passing” by Riley Messina.

Artists Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels and VNESSWOLFCHILD will construct a small temple out in the woods off the beaten path for festivalgoers to explore, while Menomonie’s Oxbow Designs developed “Oxbeaux,” a wooded stage that uses traditional Asian design and a stone plinth foundation. S. Carey and others will perform on the Oxbeaux stage during the festival.

An interactive installation called “The Musical Fence” is a big structure with tuned pipes you can run your hands down or create your own music with. “The ChippewaLL,” similarly, will allow fest-goers to make music together with a chiptune-voiced musical wall with nodes that detect hand movements to trigger different notes. Eau Claire’s Dwarfcraft Devices will create what’s called the “Tripolith,” an audio-visual instrument that is controlled by three separate panels where you can twist knobs and tweak frequencies while screens react to the sounds nearby.

There will also be a handful of experimental video artists with work on screens, and a screening of Silently Steal Away, a documentary directed by former local filmmaker Andrew Swant about Jack Raymond, the legendary and mysterious Chippewa Valley radio host and his long-running, little changing radio show. Meanwhile, the festival has added some literary elements with renowned writers and speakers, some of whom will give 60-second private readings to one person at a time.

This year, the festival sent out an open call for artists from around the globe to submit their work for consideration. What started as one such submission turned into a full-on collaboration between Eaux Claires and Minnesota artist and teacher Gregory Euclide (who did the artwork for Bon Iver’s second album Bon Iver, Bon Iver). On his breaks, Euclide would quickly draw gorgeous abstract landscapes on the whiteboard in his classroom, and when students came in he would make one of them erase the beautiful work to show them that you can create in any confines and be OK with destruction. At the festival, Euclide will do massive dry-erase works on a huge cylinder, and each person that enters the festival will be given an eraser to “destroy” a small section of it, illustrating the fleeting nature of the weekend. Euclide will also have a few ornate dioramas buried underground across the grounds, only visible via porthole to those who stumble upon them.

See what I mean? This is the stuff that takes your run-of-the-mill, bands-on-stages music festival presumptions and rockets them into the stratosphere. For Brown, the name of the game is to be unique, take risks, and invite attendees into this art-filled, two-day, creative shared experience of weirdness.

“Art should be an instrument for you to expand your mind and approach things from a different perspective,” Brown said. “When you’re in a situation where there’s a band up on stage and an audience out front, you can lose that sense of daring and that sense of exploration. These projects are meant to put you in the mindset that you’re a part of this and you’re participating. It’s also just the feeling that there’s creation happening around you. It’s everybody coming together and making something.”

The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is Aug. 12 and 13 at the festival grounds south of Eau Claire. For tickets and more information, including a full slate of musicians and artists, visit www.eauxclaires.com.

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Monday, Jul. 11th, 2016

Rock Fest 2016 to Stage Over 70 Bands

The 23rd annual Rock Fest is coming up this weekend – July 14-16.  Though the festival was cut down from a four to three day event this year, it’s boasting over 70 bands on five stages. Headliners include Five Finger Death Punch, Alice in Chains, Slipknot, Hollywood Vampires (a rock supergroup formed in 2015 and made up of Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp for those of you who don’t know) and Marilyn Manson.

Hollywood Vampires are set to take the stage at 11pm on Thursday and the epic weekend ends with Slipknot closing out the festival at the same time on Saturday. While there’s an insane number of bands ready to rock out with fans from all over the world, music is far from the only thing taking place this year.

Hollywood Vampires (Aerosmith's Joe Perry, with Johnny Depp and Alice Cooper) hit Rock Fest 2016 on Thursday night (July 14, 11pm).
Hollywood Vampires (Aerosmith's Joe Perry, with Johnny Depp and Alice Cooper) hit Rock Fest 2016 on Thursday night (July 14, 11pm).

The Texas Showdown Festival will be on the grounds complete with a master tattoo artists. There will be actual "freak shows." Additionally, a wedding chapel has been set up to host ceremonies and vow renewals. Make sure to snag one of the 7,000 campsites before they sell out (which opened Sunday for early fest-goers), and take advantage of the taxi service ($3 per-way) ready to shuttle you the grounds from the campsites. If you’re a 3-day pass holder then you’re in luck because the grounds are open to you starting Wednesday for the Bonus Bash party. VIP pit passes are already sold-out for Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, Hollywood Vampires, In This Moment, and Marilyn Manson so it’s clearly going to be a festival like never before.

If you find yourself in need of some reprieve during the three-day madness, be sure to check out one of the shaded hammocks at the Rock ‘N Rest station so you’re set to keep rockin’ all night long. Lastly, get ready to show off your best pose on the jumbotron this year by using the tags, #RockFest2016 and #WhereWeJustRock on all of your social media pics.

Rock Fest • July 14-16 • Chippewa Valley festival grounds, Cadott •  www.rock-fest.com 

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Wednesday, Jul. 6th, 2016

Down by the River: Chippewa Falls will seek private funds to finish Riverfront Park

The City of Chippewa Falls will turn to private donors to help complete an ambitious effort to create a park along the Chippewa River downtown.

The city has already spent $3 million on the first phase of Riverfront Park, where construction is ongoing this summer. Grading and environmental remediation have been done at the site, says City Planner Jayson Smith, and now paths, an entry plaza, and fountains are being built. Landscaping with plants, flowers, bushes, trees, and turf will follow, as will the construction of a seating area along the river.

But for the full park vision to be realized, the public soon will be asked to pitch in. The city recently hired a consulting firm to prepare a plan to raise $2 million to complete the second phase of the park. The proposed fundraising campaign would begin later this year and extend into 2017, with the park slated for completion by 2018. “The study is essential as it will assess our current planning and will assist the city council in identifying an appropriate strategy for the park’s proposed fundraising plans,” Smith says.

The consulting firm, Minnesota-based Crescendo Fundraising Professionals, helped raise $4 million to expand Irvine Park Zoo. The firm has already conducted interviews and focus groups about the park project, and a study about the fundraising effort will be brought to the City Council on July 19. Smith says he expects the council to recommend moving ahead with a capital campaign, which will be well underway by the end of summer.

To help gather information for the campaign, Chippewa Falls residents are encouraged to take an online survey at www.chippewafalls-wi.gov. The deadline for the survey is Sunday, July 10.

Work has been underway for several years at the new park site, which lies south of downtown Chippewa Falls bordered by Bridge Street, River Street, and the Chippewa River, not far from the Xcel Energy dam. Overall, when the cost of property purchases and nearby street reconstruction are considered, the city has spent $11 million to improve the area in recent years, Smith says. The $3 million already spent on the park comes through a Tax Increment Financing district.

However, limits on the city’s debt load as well as the cost of other city projects – including a new fire station – will make it impossible for the city to proceed with the next phase of the project without private donations, Smith says. Phase II of park construction will include the creation of an amphitheater, more fountains and lighting, permanent restrooms, benches and picnic areas, an entryway to the park from Bay Street, and more.

If all goes as planned – and community donors open their wallets – downtown Chippewa Falls will look dramatically different in a few short years.

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Eau Claire Plan Commission Rejects Tavern Proposal for Historic Kaiser Lumber Building

The Kaiser Lumber Co. office at 1004 Menomonie Street
The historic Kaiser Lumber Co. office building at 1004 Menomonie St., Eau Claire.

This poor building. The Kaiser Lumber Co. office at 1004 Menomonie Street has been through a lot in the past few years. One of the last remaining buildings from Eau Claire’s lumbering era, owner James Rolbiecki had wanted to tear it down in 2014, making way for new apartments and a new home for his main business, Riverside Bike & Skate.

But in late 2015 Rolbiecki sought – and eventually got – rezoning approval to convert the century old, historic structure into a unique restaurant and pub (the building currently houses apartments). This year, Rolbiecki realized the space was too small to be an eatery (not enough kitchen space), so he decided to remodel it into a tavern, seeking the proper permits from the Eau Claire Plan Commission.

But it looks like (to me, at least) fear of drunk college kids has hobbled the project. At last night's Plan Commission meeting, City Council Members, the Eau Claire Police Department, and the City-County Health Department recommended denying Rolbiecki's permit request. And thus it was voted down 4-3.

Basically, local authorities are worried about how many bars are already in the area, its potential to help drain police resources, and possible "overcrowding" once UW-Eau Claire's proposed $80 million Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex is built just down the street.

As quoted by the Leader-Telegram, Councilwoman and Plan Commission member Kathy Mitchell stated, “I think we’re making a big mistake if we allow a tavern here and look at the prospect of extending taverns all the way down that street. I can’t support that.”

Chad Hoyord, deputy chief of patrol at the police department, is concerned about extending the bar density seen on Water Street that far down Menomonie Street – and the increase in complaints it could bring. At one point, Hoyord mentioned how the area in question already has somewhere between six and ten taverns. (So how many is too many?)

Plan Commission Chairman Craig Brenholt was worried about the new tavern getting overwhelmed by customers (a business owner's nightmare, I'm sure) once the Sonnentag Complex is in full operation and hosting large scale events. The Leader-Telegram quotes Brenholt: "We have a very congested, or very exciting, situation, but we’re also going to have a relatively small tavern that ... could lead itself toward some of the issues that were brought up today.”

Rolbiecki did not offer any comments or arguments. I'd imagine he's frustrated – the rollercoaster his building's been on just ended by crashing into a vague bog of objections. 

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Friday, Jul. 1st, 2016

5 Wisconsin Things You Don't Want Biting You

1. MOSQUITOES

There are times during a Wisconsin summer when we find ourselves covered head to toe with mosquito bites and that old joke about the blood-sucking insect being the state bird isn’t very funny. Beyond the itching, mosquitoes can be truly dangerous: Around here, they can carry the West Nile virus and La Crosse encephalitis, both of which may be fatal in rare cases. One bright spot: The mosquito species that carry the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects, don’t live in our state.

2. TICKS

There are 15 species in Wisconsin, but only two bite humans: the dog tick (a.k.a. the wood tick) and the tinier deer tick (a.k.a. the blacklegged tick, which may carry Lyme disease). Deer ticks have to be attached for 36-48 hours to transmit the Lyme bacteria, so be sure to check yourself thoroughly for the critters if you’ve been in the woods (or even your backyard). See pictures!

3. EASTERN MASSASAUGAS

One of only two poisonous snakes found in Wisconsin, the massasauga is a short, stout rattlesnake whose range is concentrated mainly in southwestern and central Wisconsin (You won’t find it in Eau Claire, Dunn, and Chippewa counties.) According to the Department of Natural Resources, the snake is 20-32 inches long with “large, distinct, saddle-shaped or oblong blotches” on its back. They are endangered in Wisconsin, and are usually shy around humans.

4. TIMBER RATTLERS

The state’s other poisonous snake is found mainly in rocky bluffs along rivers in southwestern Wisconsin. Timber rattlers range from 36-60 inches and have black or dark-brown bands around their bodies. Their bites can be dangerous – even deadly – but they’re generally shy and tend to rattle a lot before striking.

5. BATS

They won’t suck your blood, but these flying mammals are the most common species infected with rabies in Wisconsin. (No. 2 is the skunk, which you’ll want to avoid for other reasons as well.) Though bites are rare, keep yourself safe by repairing window screens and blocking even tiny holes that bats could use to get into your house.

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