Friday, Jun. 22nd, 2018

Historic Steam Train Could Come Chugging Back to Eau Claire

Soo Line 2719 in the Two Harbors area, circa 2009. (IMAGE: Pete Markham | CC BY-SA 2.0)
Soo Line 2719 in the Two Harbors area, circa 2009. (IMAGE: Pete Markham | CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Eau Claire City Council could exercise its option to buy a 95-year-old steam locomotive from a Duluth museum as early as this summer, bringing the historic engine back to the city after a decade-plus absence.

The City Council will take public comment Monday evening on the resolution, which is sponsored by Council members Dave Strobel and Jeremy Gragert. The council is scheduled to vote on the resolution at its Tuesday afternoon legislative meeting.

According to city documents, it would cost an estimated $31,000 to move the train from Duluth to Eau Claire (this would be done on a flatbed rail car) and another $59,500 to built a shelter to protect it and tracks to place it on.

Three years ago, the city passed on the chance to bring Soo Line No. 2719 back, but Strobel is optimistic that there is now enough support (and potential funding) to make the plan work. “We’ve got another bite at the apple now, so we’ll see how it shakes out,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of positive feedback and encouragement and support since it went public. I’m really enthusiastic right now.”

According to city documents, it would cost an estimated $31,000 to move the train from Duluth to Eau Claire (this would be done on a flatbed rail car) and another $59,500 to built a shelter to protect it and tracks to place it on.

The 2719 was built in 1923 and pulled passenger trains between Minneapolis and Chicago until the late 1950s (it was the last steam train to run on the Soo Line). The coal-powered, half-million-pound engine is considered historic: It is listed on both the state and national Registers of Historic places. The engine was on display in Carson Park from 1960 to 1996, when it was sold to the Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund, a private group which raised money to restore it and ran it as an excursion train until the early 2000s. It was later leased to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, which also ran it as an excursion train until a few years ago, when it was sidelined because of the need for repairs.

In 2015, the city exercised its first right of refusal and bought the locomotive for $1 from the Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund. At the time, Strobel had hoped the City Council would opt to bring the locomotive to Eau Claire. Instead, the council turned around and sold it to the Duluth museum for $2. However, the sale included a clause that the city of Eau Claire could buy back the train within three years. That window will close on July 28.

Under the resolution the City Council will consider Tuesday, the city will seek an extension of the right to purchase the locomotive until Feb. 1, with an additional 120 days to move the locomotive from the museum. If the Duluth museum won’t agree to the extension, the city will purchase the locomotive immediately. Strobel said he’d prefer the former happened, since it would allow time to form a plan to move and house the locomotive locally. In fact, if the City Council approves the deal, Strobel and Gragert will explore the logistics and cost of relocating the locomotive and report back in September.

Strobel isn’t sure if the City Council will approve the resolution, but if they do he hopes the train will return to Eau Claire, perhaps to find a home downtown. He said the cost to move and maintain the train could be covered by the city and private donors. And if the city doesn’t want the train, he added, perhaps a nearby community would.

“I’m really excited,” Strobel said. “I’m glad we have the opportunity. We’ll have to see what the council decides to do and what the public says at the meeting.”

Want to add your 2 cents to the discussion about the future of Soo Line No. 2719? The Eau Claire City Council will hold a public hearing at its meeting at 7pm Monday, June 25, at City Hall. The council will vote on the resolution at its legislative session at 4pm Tuesday, June 26.

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Wednesday, Jun. 20th, 2018

Passenger Rail From Eau Claire to the Twin Cities? The Discussion Continues ...

All aboard, Wisconsin.
All aboard, Wisconsin.

Can the Chippewa Valley support a passenger rail line to the Twin Cities? That’s the issue explored in a front-page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which details ongoing efforts to bring passenger rail back to Eau Claire after a more than half-century hiatus. The article, published in the June 20 edition, discusses the West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition’s grassroots effort to create a public-private partnership for passenger rail service between Eau Claire and St. Paul’s Union Depot along the existing Union Pacific freight rail line.

According to the article, the rail coalition has been “emboldened by privately funded transit projects in Florida and Texas (and) the Trump administration’s support of public-private partnerships to bolster the nation’s infrastructure.” The line would cost between $100 million and $250 million to build, and its operating cost would be paid for by passenger fares. The article continues:

“Nothing we’re looking to do here has been done before,” said James Coston, chairman of Corridor Capital, a Chicago-based passenger rail development, finance and management firm that plans to invest in the Eau Claire project. “This is a real grass-roots effort.”

The Eau Claire-St. Paul line would feature stops in Menomonie, Baldwin and Hudson in Wisconsin and Stillwater in Minnesota. A one-way trip traveling at a top speed of 80 mph would take about an hour and 20 minutes and would cost $30 to $35, though some discounts may apply, and fares would be less for stops in between. Four trips a day are planned, two in each direction, with Wi-Fi, snacks and beverages available for passengers.

Check out the full article on the Star Tribune’s website. And a word of warning, the first paragraph contains another cringe-worthy reference to "mini-Portland."

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Tuesday, Jun. 12th, 2018

UPDATE: Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid Abruptly Steps Down

Kincaid
Kincaid

Longtime Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid resigned from office Tuesday, effective immediately.

The resignation was announced at the beginning of Tuesday’s City Council meeting by City Manager Dale Peters. Kincaid was not present at the meeting, over which Vice President Andrew Werthmann presided.

“On this day, and effective immediately, I find it necessary to resign my position as City Council President as it has become impossible to govern in a manner befitting a city that works, and to which the public has become accustomed,” Kincaid said in a statement released to the media.

According to WEAU News 13, Kincaid’s decision was so abrupt that several council members only learned about it when they came to Tuesday afternoon’s meeting.

The statement outlined a list of accomplishments during her time on the council, including “downtown revitalization (from Phoenix Park to the Confluence Project), an expectation of civility in public service, trust in local governance, intergovernmental agreements with surrounding jurisdictions, creation of the Public Spirit Fund and Eau Claire PORCH, Inc., the city’s first Writer in Residence, and cultivating an excellent working relationship with City staff.”

Kincaid, 65, has served as council president since 2009, and was most recently re-elected to a three-year term in 2017. She served a total of 14 years on the City Council and previously served two terms on the Washington Town Board.

Kincaid became the fifth member of the 11-person council to leave office this year. Four others – David Klinkhammer, Kathy Mitchell, Tim Tewalt, and Bob Von Haden – lost their re-election bids in April to a crop of newcomers.

Klinkhammer, the former councilman, told the Leader-Telegram that he believed the change in the makeup of the council likely contributed to Kincaid’s decision.

Over the past year, disagreements over council members’ decorum during meetings arose. In particular, Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle’s desire to continue to nurse her young child during meetings led to a successful vote, supported by Kincaid, to prohibit children from the council dais during meetings.

WQOW-TV News 18 reported that there were “tensions between Kincaid and other city council members.” According to an open records request filed by WQOW, “At least one city council member had requested mediation with Kincaid, but, according to our records, that request was never fulfilled. Tuesday, the council was set to discuss writing a code of conduct for council members.”

According to City Council documents, a proposed resolution stated a code of conduct was needed to “ensure a working environment among city council members that upholds the principles of inclusivity, support, respect, civility and honesty.”

Later this month, the council is expected to discuss the procedure for finding an interim president. And next April, a special election will be held to fill the remaining year of Kincaid’s term.

Below is the full text of Kincaid’s statement to the media:

Announcement to the Press
July 12, 2018

On this day, and effective immediately, I find it necessary to resign my position as City Council President as it has become impossible to govern in a manner befitting a city that works, and to which the public has become accustomed.

I leave my position proud of the contributions my leadership helped accomplish for the common good. I count among them: downtown revitalization (from Phoenix Park to the Confluence Project), an expectation of civility in public service, trust in local governance, intergovernmental agreements with surrounding jurisdictions, creation of the Public Spirit Fund and Eau Claire PORCH, Inc., the city’s first Writer in Residence, and cultivating an excellent working relationship with City staff.

These accomplishments are not mine alone and I proclaim my admiration and hearty respect for city staff and the visionary people who urged me to try new things for the good of the city.

A lady always knows when it is time to leave. I do so now to employ my leadership skills toward another good.

It was an honor to have helped build a city that works.

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New ‘Food Truck Friday’ Series, presented by Volume One and Silver Spring Foods to launch in July

The Chippewa Valley food truck scene is quickly evolving. With a recent softening in Eau Claire regulation, the developing food-truck frenzy is likely to grow even more. But with so many options and trucks constantly on the move (and a limited season in general), experiencing them all can be a challenge. 

Enter Volume One’s new Food Truck Friday event series. This carnival of cuisine, presented in partnership with Silver Spring Foods, kicks off July 13 in downtown Eau Claire – in the parking lot between N. Farwell and N. Barstow streets (aka the “Railroad Lot”). Up to eight food, snack, and drink establishments will open for business for lunch and dinner (11am-8pm), providing the opportunity to sample and feast upon the work of multiple mobile chefs. It’s the perfect chance to take a break from the office, grab some grub, and snag a patch of grass or a bench by the river – or bring the whole family down after work and take in the summer sun. The event takes place across from Galloway Grille, where one can enjoy a cool beer on their patio while enjoying a meal. Food Truck Friday will feature a slightly different line up of vendors each month, including Basil Wyndthorp's, Life Support BBQ, Holy Donuts, The Hubb, ECDC, and more. It’s also sponsored in part by Visit Eau Claire.  The event, which heads to Eau Claire City Council next week for final approval, will run one Friday a month through October.

More information, including the full season schedule, complete vendor list, menus and more will be available soon online and in Volume One Magazine.

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5 Things Invented in Wisconsin That Make Summertime Super Fun

Vroomy vroom vroom, Wisconsin.
Vroomy vroom vroom, Wisconsin.

1. OUTBOARD MOTOR

If you’ve ever zipped across a northwoods lake (or enjoyed watching a water ski show) you have Wisconsin mechanic and inventor Ole Evinrude to thank. Evinrude, a Norwegian immigrant, produced the first commercially viable gas-powered outboard motor in 1909. His spark of inspiration came on a hot day three years earlier when he rowed a boat on a 5-mile round-trip to get his girlfriend a dish of ice cream. (We’re guessing the treat melted, but it’s the thought that counts.) Why not build a motor for the boat, the exhausted suitor wondered? To make a long story short: The young woman, Bess, became his wife, and Evinrude is known as the father of the outboard motor.

2. ICE CREAM SUNDAE

The addition of chocolate syrup to ice cream seems like a small thing, but in the 19th century it was a radical notion. (Chocolate syrup was reserved for sodas.) According to Wisconsin lore, in the early 1890s a patron asked for just such a combination at an ice cream parlor in Two Rivers owned by Ed Berners, and the combo became a popular treat. In nearby Manitowoc, Charles Giffey began serving the dish, too, but only on Sundays. When a little girl demanded one on a weekday, Giffey complied, but changed the concoction’s name to “sundae.”

3. MALTED MILK

Speaking of sweet treats, malted milk is also a Wisconsin invention. Seeking to create a formula for infants, British immigrant brothers William and James Horlick first set up shop in Chicago and then in Racine, Wisconsin, in the 1870s. They patented their “granulated food for infants” in 1883 and trademarked the name “malted milk” in 1887.  The sweet, protein-packed powder became popular at soda shops as well as with explorers, which explains by you’ll find the Horlick Mountains in Antarctica!

Thanks, Wisconsin.
Thanks, Wisconsinites of yore.

4. STATE-SPANNING BIKE TRAILS

When it opened in 1966, “The Wisconsin Bikeway,” a 300-mile trail between Kenosha and La Crosse, was the first bike trail to cross an entire state. Furthermore, the Elroy-to-Sparta part of the bikeway was one of the nation’s first “rails to trails” paths, having been converted from an unused railroad right-of-way into a bike trail. If you enjoy designated trails, you have Wisconsin’s pedaling pioneers to thank.

5. THE BAN ON DDT

This may seem like a stretch, but bear with us for a moment: In 1970, Wisconsin became the first state to ban the distribution and sale of DDT, an insecticide that was found to be be harming a lot more than insects – including mammals, fish, and birds, including the bald eagle. Following state and federal DDT bans, wildlife populations – including that of the bald eagle – began to recover. In other words, in part because Wisconsin took the lead 48 years ago, you can enjoy the beauty of our national symbol today.

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Wednesday, Jun. 6th, 2018

For the PEOPLE: Vernon, Dessner’s new audio platform launches with tons of unheard songs

Dessner/Vernon/PEOPLE at Eaux Claires 2017.
Dessner/Vernon/PEOPLE at Eaux Claires 2017

Today, the minds behind the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival – Justin Vernon and brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner – launched a sleek new open-access audio platform called PEOPLE. The website brings together tons of familiar collaborators for a massive flux of new music, and there’s the second installment of a related festival component in Germany this August with over 150 acts performing with one another.

“We are a steadily growing group of artists, freely creating and sharing our work with each other and everyone,” a statement on the PEOPLE website reads. “We call it PEOPLE. It was born of a wish to establish an independent and nurturing space in which to make work (generally around music) that is collaborative, spontaneous and expressive in nature and where all unnecessary distractions or obstacles that get in the way are removed.”

Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s long-awaited Big Red Machine project has a four-song EP on the platform already, and you can hear new cuts from familiar names like Aero Flynn, Poliça, and Marijuana Deathsquads. Artists with the login are free to upload their own tracks from the studio or from the cutting room floor; everything is on the table. Clicking around the site will lead you to collaborations and all kinds of B-sides, rarities, demos, brand new songs, and much more will be added in time. Spend some time with it at beta.p-e-o-p-l-e.com.

And did you hear about the Vernon/Dessner Eau Claire fireworks live score thing? 

In other kinda-related local news, Vernon and Aaron Dessner are gearing up to live score the Fourth of July fireworks in Eau Claire from atop the Jamf building next to Phoenix Park, as part of the lead-up to Eaux Claires, which takes place a few days later. The duo and some friends will play some music in coordination with the firework display – which will be live-streamed on Verge 99.9FM (f.k.a. Blugold Radio) – then perform some Big Red Machine tracks as well. There might be more surprises in store in the week of Eaux Claires in addition to the myriad Prex Claires shows all over downtown on July 5 as well, so keep your eyes peeled and your ears open.

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Wednesday, May. 23rd, 2018

USA Today: Eau Claire ranked "second drunkest" city in U.S.

Nearly 4-in-10 deadly car accidents in Eau Claire involve alcohol, says a USA Today article that ranks the drunkest cities in the United States.  Eau Claire came in second in this not-so-favorable piece, which takes into account how many adults drink heavily or binge drink, how many driving deaths involve alcohol, median income, and an estimated number of restaurants and bars in the area.

The article reports that 26.2 percent of adults in Eau Claire meet the Centers for Disease Control’s criteria for drinking to excess.  This includes binge drinking (drinking enough to reach a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration), heavy drinking (typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week for men, or 8 drinks or more per week for women), alcohol use by people younger than 21, and alcohol use by pregnant women.

According to USA Today, Wisconsin is home to nine of the top 20 drunkest cities, with Green Bay coming in number one.  In Green Bay, alcohol is involved in half of all deadly car accidents. For more information on CDC definitions concerning alcohol, check out the CDC website.

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Monday, May. 21st, 2018

A Mighty Mural: Oxbow launches artist-in-residence program

Chicago-based artist Molly Z
Chicago-based artist Molly Z stands across from the Eau Claire Printing Building

The corner of Farwell and Galloway is about to get prettified in a big, bold way. Chicago-based artist Molly Z will begin work on a 3,200 square foot mural on the side of the Eau Claire Printing Building on June 3 as part of The Oxbow Hotel’s first artist in residence program. The public is welcome to participate in the process during several events hosted throughout the residency – in addition to watching the image come to life over the roughly two-week project. The Oxbow Gallery will host a panel discussion on creating public art led by the artist June 9 (3-4pm). The Oxbow and Visit Eau Claire will host a Mural Appreciation Reception June 11 from 5-7pm, where people can view the nearly finished mural, enjoy live music, and get a poster of the mural live screen-printed by Tangled Up in Hue signed by Molly Z.

The artist in residence program will inspire communication between local and visiting artists, resulting in creative pollination between regions, enriching Eau Claire's art scene and spreading local character elsewhere, Oxbow co-owner Nick Meyer said.

Molly Z is a digital designer, illustrator, and muralist who uses vibrant colors and bold designs to brighten spaces and make people smile. She has created many works of art - both large and small - for special events, conferences, and products.

For more information, check out The Oxbow’s Artist in Residence webpage. Check out the May 30 issue of Volume One for the full story.

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Local Lounge Closes, Sports Bar on the Way

Image: Local Lounge
Image: Local Lounge

Today, after two and a half years in business, The Local Lounge – a bar, restaurant, and event venue on Eau Claire's westside – has closed. From their Facebook page: 

In its place, the owners will open The Varsity Club, which describes itself as "an Upscale Sports Pub for Sports FANATICS in the Chippewa Valley." They say, "We feature, Racy Fun, Craft Beers, Leagues & a Scratch Kitchen." 

They plan to offer dining, delivery, take out, and catering. The Varisty Club will be open for lunch and dinner and offer a “multi-cuisine” menu. Owners are now hiring, and they are scheduled to open June 17.

The change will not affect The Hub – an event venue next door to The Varsity Club – where all events will remain as scheduled. 

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Friday, May. 11th, 2018