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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Thursday, Aug. 31st, 2017

The Informalist Defines "Farm-To-Table" in Tasty Video

The Informalist – a farm-to-table eatery in downtown Eau Claire’s Lismore Hotel – decided to show its customers exactly what “farm-to-table” means with a fun video showing off some of the people and places that make it happen.

Between gorgeous footage of local farmland and downtown Eau Claire, you meet some of the key players that make a restaurant like The Informalist hum. You hear from the owner (Zach Halmstad) and the front of house manager (Amy O’Connor), and you get to see the cooks and staff at work. But one of the best interviews features Executive Chef Amy Huo talking about the ethical and sustainable role the restaurant plays in our community. Seeing the actual chef behind the food you eat and hearing her culinary philosophy is ... well, it's pretty cool. It keeps us connected to our meals and the place we call home.

Like many local businesses, The Informalist is tied directly to the health, wellbeing, and development of downtown Eau Claire – its buildings and its people – so it’s great to see how much care they take in building that relationship.

This post was produced through a partnership with The Informalist in downtown Eau Claire. Learn more!

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Five Guys to Open in Oakwood Mall?

In a Facebook post yesterday, Eau Claire's Oakwood Mall announced that popular burger and fries restaurant chain Five Guys would be opening a store in the mall. No word on how soon, but Betsy Maher, the general manager with General Growth Property (which owns the mall), told News 18 construction of the new place should start in early September.

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Wednesday, Aug. 30th, 2017

Vinyl Me, Please Names Revival Records "Best Record Store in Wisconsin"

Part of a series on the best record store in each state, music blog Vinyl Me, Please has a fantastic column on Revival Records, calling it the best in Wisconsin. Check it out:

... Revival began like a lot of records stores: with a genuine love of music and what it could offer for the people who could get their hands on it. While there’s always been a supportive creative community in Eau Claire, many more residents—and eventually people from all over—began to recognize it, support it and participate in it, giving creative projects and places like Revival Records resources to develop—and a lot of us got the humble pleasure of growing along with it. ...

Read the rest from former local Amileah Sutliff!

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