Pablo Properties Pulls Plug on Downtown Proposal

Tom Giffey

Block 7/
Block 7/"liner building" (downtown Eau Claire) concept from Pablo Properties.

Citing financial viability, Pablo Properties has pulled the plug on its plan to build an office building, a new children’s museum, and an innovative “container park” on two downtown Eau Claire lots. The Leader-Telegram reported in its Thursday edition that the news has sent the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which owns the property, back to the drawing board.

The news came at a Wednesday meeting of the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which last year sought development proposals for the two sites, commonly referred to as Block 7 (a temporary parking lot across from The Livery restaurant) and the liner site (between the new parking ramp and North Barstow Street). Pablo Properties had originally hoped to complete construction on the $32 million project by 2020. Now, the RDA will seek new proposals from developers for the properties. According to the Leader-Telegram:

Changes with clients who were lined up for office space and rising construction costs impacted the financial viability of the project, even after some changes were considered, according to (City Economic Development Manager Aaron) White.

“They made a great effort to try and revamp the project,” he said of Pablo.

White said Pablo Properties considered adding residential units, looking at the retail sector or other mixes of uses for the sites, but ultimately decided they had to step away from the project.

In a statement to the media, Julia Johnson, a partner in Pablo Properties, said that the project ended up not being financially feasible:

Even when we assumed 90% occupancy at current market rate for Class A office space in Eau Claire, the rental income didn’t cover the operating costs of the office building. Projected operating costs were high due to current construction costs, expected valuation of the building, and the non-rent generating common areas necessary for multi-tenant use. In efforts to make the project feasible we removed exciting features like a rooftop greenhouse, we stopped figuring lower rents for grocery store and we standardized building construction in many aspects. We looked at adding residential to the project as well. Other variations changed the project so substantially that our reasons for doing the project dissolved.

Pablo’s owners, staff and consultants spent countless hours and considerable dollars to progress the plans. We diligently explored our options to make the project work and did not come to this decision lightly.

A highlight this process was working with the Children’s Museum, and we hope plans for their new home progress smoothly. We will continue to look for ways to improve access to entrepreneurial opportunities, fresh food and quality employment in downtown Eau Claire. We are grateful to the RDA and the City of Eau Claire for their shared excitement in the project as proposed and hope they can find another suitable project for the sites.

 

Michael McHorney, executive director of the children’s museum, told WEAU 13 News that he is hopeful the museum will remain part of future plans for Block 7. “There is a lot of space in Block 7 so I think there is plenty of opportunity for the new developer to work with them for their relocation and expansion,” White told the TV station.

Container park concept for "liner site" from Pablo Properties.

Unveiled last fall, Pablo’s plans for Block 7 featured a two-story children’s museum with a “green” roof that would allow children to play outside, something that isn’t possible at the museum’s current site, 220 S. Barstow St. The museum would have been on the south end of the block along Galloway Street, with a public plaza just to the north. This courtyard was to include a water feature, green space, outdoor seating, and access to underground parking. The museum would have been adjacent to a 125,000-square-foot office building with first-floor retail space for the likes of a bank branch or a small grocery store.

Meanwhile, the liner site would have been transformed into “The Stacks,” which Pablo described as “a container park that offers low start-up investment opportunities with shared infrastructure to dining, service, and retail businesses.” The structures would have been repurposed shipping containers, and they would have been arranged around a “year-round patio space with seating and event space for outdoor movies in the summer and an ice rink in the winter,” Pablo Properties said.

Pablo Properties is known for a variety of other projects, including the construction of the Jamf office building, its involvement in revitalizing the Lismore Hotel, and its charitable donation to the Pablo Center at the Confluence. 

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