Friday, Oct. 5th, 2018

Developers Have Big Plans for Vacant Downtown Lots (Including a New Children’s Museum)

"Block 7" in downtown Eau Claire, with the "liner building" site in the background near the new parking garage.

Four developers have stepped forward with proposals for a pair of downtown Eau Claire lots that have remained undeveloped as new apartments, office buildings, and a parking ramp have risen around them. Three of the four plans, which were announced by the City of Eau Claire on Friday, include a new building for the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire.

The two vacant properties are along North Barstow Street between Riverfront Terrace and Wisconsin Streets. The larger of the two – known as Block 7 or the Livery lot – is now a temporary parking lot. The other, generally referred to as the “liner” site, is in front of the downtown parking ramp where the post office formerly stood.

According to the city, the developers who submitted proposals for both sites are Commonweal Development Corp.; Pablo Properties; and Merge Urban Development Group. Hoeft Builders, Inc., on behalf of one of their clients, submitted a proposal for the Liner Site.

The three multi-site proposed projects estimate a construction cost range of over $30 million in investment.

The city last issued a formal request for proposals for the sites in 2015, but only received one plan. Earlier this year, in response to renewed inquiries from developers, the city set a Sept. 28 deadline for new ideas. Developers responded with what Scott Allen, the city’s community development director, termed “four very strong proposals.” The Redevelopment Authority, the city-affiliated entity that owns the properties, may discuss the proposals as early as their Wednesday, Oct. 17, meeting.

Specifics of the four plans were not yet made available by the city.

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, 220 S. Barstow St., has seen rapid growth in attendance and membership in recent years, which has led it to explore relocation. According to a statement from the museum, “The Children’s Museum board of directors has directed our organization to explore partnership opportunities and relocating to the Block 7 Redevelopment Site. This opportunity has us excited as we have conversations with potential partners that will allow our mission to best serve the current and future needs of our community. This direction also includes pursuing negotiations with the selected developer on design, cost, and ownership of museum property.”

The current museum is about 15,000 square feet, but the hope is to expand it to about 21,000 square feet, said Executive Director Michael McHorney. A new location would also allow the museum to include the outdoors and green space in its programs. The museum hasn’t yet begun fundraising for a potential move, McHorney said.

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Thursday, Oct. 4th, 2018

5 Rustic Wisconsin Roads to Explore for Autumnal Awesomeness

1. RUSTIC ROAD 6 (CHIPPEWA CO.)

Over the past 45 years, 120 particularly beautiful Wisconsin country roads have been officially designated Rustic Roads by the state Department of Transportation. One of the first of these is Rustic Road 6 in northeastern Chippewa County. Otherwise known as County Road E, the road runs from the junction of Highway 64 (west of Cornell) north 13.3 miles to the Rusk County line. According to the DOT’s Rustic Roads guidebook, the road follows part of the old Flambeau Trail, which was used by the region’s earliest travelers, and winds its way through county forests and the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.

2. RUSTIC ROAD 45 (EAU CLAIRE CO.)

The only officially designated Rustic Road in Eau Claire County, this 2.7-mile stretch of gravel is otherwise known as Goat Ranch Road, which runs between Coon Fork County Park and County Highway H. Keep your eyes peeled for deer and other wildlife as you navigate your way through the shady depths of the Eau Claire County Forest.

3. RUSTIC ROAD 89 (DUNN CO.)

Beginning at the edge of the city of Menomonie, Rustic Road 89 follows 410th and 420th streets between County Highway P and 370th Avenue. The 4.7-mile paved route traverses the bluffs and runs parallel to the Red Cedar Trail and the Red Cedar River just to the east. Along the road, stop to see the Devil’s Punchbowl, an amazing, water-carved canyon that you can explore on foot. (Bring sturdy footwear!)

4. RUSTIC ROAD 107 (DUNN CO.)

About 14 miles south of Menomonie in the town of Peru is Rustic Road 107, a 6.7-mile paved and gravel route that meanders along 160th Avenue, 650th Street, and 50th Avenue between County Highway O and County Highway M. According to the guidebook, this route features “wooded areas with canopies over the road that open up to meadows and picturesque views,” including plenty of wetlands. The road follows the Chippewa River and is twice crossed by the Chippewa River State Trail. 

5. RUSTIC ROAD 76 (CLARK CO.)

Expect to see plenty of wild creatures – from white-tailed deer to sandhill cranes – as you zigzag through the Clark County Forest near Neillsville. This route follows parts of Columbia Avenue, Middle Road, Fisher Avenue, Sand Road, and Bruce Mound Avenue between U.S. Highway 10 and County Highway B. According to the guidebook, you’ll see an abandoned trestle bridge over Wedges Creek and the Lone Grave Marker – “the last remaining evidence of the community of Columbia, which dates back to the 1880s.”

To learn more about these and other Rustic Roads around the state, visit wisconsindot.gov/rusticroads

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Wednesday, Oct. 3rd, 2018

Downtown Gift Shop Raggedy Man Wins Jump-Start Business Competition

Matt Pabich, owner of Raggedy Man Goods & Gifts
Matt Pabich, owner of Raggedy Man Goods & Gifts

A downtown Eau Claire gift shop featuring a wide range of affordable gifts and household items is the grand-prize winner of the 2018 Jump-Start Downtown Business Competition. Matt Pabich, owner of Raggedy Man Goods & Gifts, received the Jim Mishefske Award at an awards luncheon on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The grand prize includes $5,000 in start-up capital (courtesy of Royal Credit Union), $750 in advertising credit from the Leader-Telegram, and a brand development strategy session with JB Systems. Raggedy Man opened in April at 401 S. Barstow St.

The Jump-Start competition’s Honorable Mention award went to Tabatha Voss, proprietor of The Broom & Crow, 106 E. Grand Ave., which specializes in Pagan and New Age books, gifts, and apothecary items. The Honorable Mention includes $2,500 in start-up capital (thanks to WESTconsin Credit Union, Market & Johnson, Mayo Clinic Health System, Weld Riley, and Xcel Energy) plus a $500 credit with SpinVision, which provides virtual tours.

Finally, the Innovative Idea Award, which includes a $1,000 cash award sponsored by Jamf, went to Bibi Krumenauer for Star Cup, a bubble tea shop currently inside Oakwood Mall that is expected to expand to downtown Eau Claire in the near future.

The Jump-Start awards, now in their 14th year, are a program of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., a nonprofit organization that works to promote business, housing, and culture in downtown Eau Claire.

Five businesses applied to this year’s competition, and all of them will receive a media package from DECI as well as eligibility for the Entrepreneurial Training Program offered by the Small Business Development Center. “We are excited to be able to offer more to applicants than ever before and, thanks to our sponsors, award more cash since 2005!” said Ray French, business assistance specialist with DECI.

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Thursday, Sep. 27th, 2018

Saturday: Pablo Center to Open up RCU Theater to the Public

Image: Levi Polus
Image: Levi Polus

A number of locals were disappointed (voiced via social media posts) last Saturday, Sept. 22 during the grand opening of the Pablo Center at the Confluence because one of the art center's main attractions, the RCU Theater, was off limits due to show rehearsals. Well, it looks like The Pablo heard the complaints. From a press release today ... 

(Eau Claire, WI, September 27, 2018) – Pablo Center at the Confluence has announced that its RCU Theatre will be open to the public this Saturday, September 29 from noon until 4:00 p.m. Pablo Center is excited to share the space on this day in celebration of Downtown Eau Claire, Inc.’s International Fall Festival. The BMO Harris Box Office will also be open at this time. 

The community is invited to stop by to see this amazing space and all it has to offer with several upcoming shows this month. For a full calendar of events, visit www.PabloCenter.org

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Stories of The State: Watch WEAU's State Theatre Documentary

If you missed your chance to say goodbye to The State Theatre, the 92-year-old entertainment venue that served as a home to vaudeville, movie showings, live music, and community theater, fear not: WEAU has produced a  great mini-documentary taking you through its halls and history.

“The opportunity to create this documentary allowed me to tell a story of the theater, the arts center and the memories of what it all meant.” – Andrew Felix, WEAU TV-13

WEAU aired Stories of the State on Sunday, Sept. 16.  WEAU’s Andrew Felix spearheaded this project, which includes photos, news clips from the venue’s reopening in 1988, video of some of the more recent performances, and interviews with a number of familiar faces within the arts community.

“The opportunity to create this documentary allowed me to tell a story of the theater, the arts center and the memories of what it all meant,” Felix said.  A consistent volunteer for the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre for nine years during his youth, he spent a lot of time in The State, and believed the building and the experiences made there were special.  

“This gave me a chance to ask the questions that I’ve always wanted to know,” Felix said.  “I learned more than I ever expected.”

Felix is thankful for the skills and connections he developed during his involvement with The State Theatre.  “Maybe producing this was my little way of giving back to the community that gave me so much,” he said.

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Wednesday, Sep. 19th, 2018

Visit Eau Claire Launches New Branding, Logo

Visit Eau Claire, the area’s tourism promotion agency, has unveiled a colorful new logo (above) and brand identity that it says “captures the personality of the city known for its independent spirit, creative culture, penchant for originality, and inspiring natural resources.” The new look is already in use online, and it will be prominently displayed when Visit Eau Claire opens its new visitor center on Oct. 26 in the Pablo Center at the Confluence. Linda John, the group’s executive director, said the branding process was informed by the perceptions of residents, visitors, and people who once lived here and decided to move back. “That evaluation process consistently turned up words and phrases including independent spirit, renaissance, arts and music, a ‘forever young’ mindset especially coming into play with sports, an openness to new and original ideas, caring, collaborative, inclusive, hip neighborhoods with lots happening, and natural resources that inspire creativity,” John said. Visit Eau Claire worked with Odd Brand Strategy, an Eau Claire design firm, to create the new look. To get a peek at the new branding, go to visiteauclaire.com.

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Tuesday, Sep. 18th, 2018

5 Big Numbers: Eau Claire’s New Arts Center

1. 135,000 SQUARE FEET

The total floorspace inside the Pablo Center at the Confluence, which officially opens Sept. 22. That includes two theaters, two art galleries, a dance studio, rehearsal spaces, classrooms, a recording studio, offices, and more, much of it with outstanding views of the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers. (The figure is 155,000 square feet if you include space occupied by mechanical items on the roof.)

2. 1,600 SEATS

The combined capacity of the RCU and Jamf theaters. The 400-seat Jamf Theatre, the largest “black box” theater in the Midwest, will be highly flexible: The seats pull out of the wall and performances can be held on a thrust stage or in the round.The Broadway-style 1,200-seat RCU Theatre can seat more people than the old State Theatre yet no audience member will more than 80 feet from the stage.

3. 113 FEET

That’s the distance between the surface of the RCU Theatre stage and the fly tower, allowing a huge amount of space for curtains and set pieces to be hoisted into the air. (There’s also a distance of 83 feet from the stage to the bottom of the rigging grid, which equipment such as lights hang from.) Overall, the stage is 55 feet deep and 100 feet wide, making it three times larger than the stage at the State Theatre.

4. 7,200 SQUARE FEET

The size of the lobby and atrium area – also known as the OakLeaf Physicians Lobby – which will soar upward three stories. Visitors coming from the soon-to-be-completed Haymarket Plaza will enter the arts center via this 2,200 person capacity lobby. Here they will be able to access the box office, the concession area, and view a word cloud containing the names of all 1,100 donors to the project. 

5. $59.89 MILLION

That’s the total price tag for the Pablo Center, including design ($6 million), construction ($45 million), furnishings ($7.9 million), and “pre-opening expenses” like staffing and technology ($900,000). The biggest chunk ($24 million and counting) is coming from donors, with the rest from the state, the City of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, and new market tax credits.

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Welcome to the Pablo: Eau Claire's new arts center plans wild grand opening

“Firebird”
“Firebird”

After more than six years of planning and the persistent efforts of countless leaders, supporters, and community members like yourself, the big day is finally upon us: The Pablo Center at the Confluence is a reality, and the public is invited to celebrate the grand opening of Eau Claire’s new cultural center. On Saturday, Sept. 22, from noon-5:30pm, the Pablo Center will be open for members of the public to explore and enjoy free of charge. Visitors can grab a bite to eat, explore the art galleries, and enjoy beautiful music and dance performances. When the sun goes down, be prepared to shift gears as the Pablo Center presents “Cabinet of Curiosities,” a gala event that will celebrate the idea of wonder through theatrical and musical performances. The audience will be treated to two performances. The first is the world premiere of “Terrene” (which means “of or like the Earth”), a unique combination of visual art by designer/sculptor/puppeteer Chris M. Green and music by UW-Eau Claire resident composer Chiayu Hsu, all in celebration of natural, earthly curiosities. The second performance will be “Firebird,” a lush puppet and dance masterpiece that tells the tale of Prince Ivan, the magical firebird, and the epic struggle between good and evil. The Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra will play Igor Stravinksy’s stunning score while dancers bring David Neumann’s choreography to life. Learn more about both events at pablocenter.org/all-events.

Pablo Center at the Confluence Grand Opening • Saturday, Sept. 22 • Grand opening celebration, noon-5:30pm, FREE • “Cabinet of Curiosities,” 7:30pm, RCU Theatre, tickets start at $30 

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Thursday, Sep. 13th, 2018
Monday, Sep. 3rd, 2018