Another chapter in the storied history of the 2 S. Barstow building opened today when the city’s Redevelopment Authority approved the plan of Nate and Justin Vernon to turn the three-level building into a live music venue and cultural center. This time around, the RDA heard proposals from four groups of potential developers, but gave the green light for only the Vernons to proceed. Nate Vernon – tour manager for his brother Justin and his band Bon Iver – is heading the effort, and now he and Justin have 120 days to firm up financing, construction plans, and get all the ducks in a row needed to actually close the transaction, at which point the city hands over the keys and work can begin. However, it is important to recognize that this is still just a proposal, and any number of unexpected roadblocks could still surface and thwart the plan’s feasibility, but everyone involved is optimistic that the right groundwork has been laid for success.
Likely to be called Union College (a play on the building’s history as a women’s school decades ago), the space will house a venue on the first floor with a stage and bar. Upper floors will host space for audio and video gear which the public may have access to through production classes and workshops. Inspiration for the specifics of the space could come from all over the world, as the Vernons have seen many of the best venues and performances spaces in existence through their international tours over the past couple years.
The considerable success of Bon Iver puts the Vernons in a strong position to grab larger touring bands off Interstate 94 and to network in a way that might help out in the short and long run. But it’s the strength and energy of the local scene that they hope to really harness, making the venue into a magnifying glass of sorts. “We need a focal point for the energy to come through,” said Nate Vernon in a phone conversation this afternoon. “Knowing who we know now after being on the road, and knowing lots of booking agents and having personal relationships with bands, we just happen to be the people that are capable of doing that for Eau Claire.”
You can hear about 10 minutes of the conversation below where Nate Vernon goes into the plan, the challenges, and the timeline. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention I’ve done some light consultation with the Vernon’s on their plan through its development over the past couple months. So take that for what it’s worth.
So, what are your plans for the space?
Will this venue be competing with other area efforts?
What's the next step?
How does this fit into downtown?
Who are you working with on this?
Existing issues with the building.