Tuesday, Mar. 15th, 2016

Country JAM, Eaux Claires, and Blue Ox Almost Shut Down by Town of Union

Country JAM, Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, and the Blue Ox Music Festival – all of which take place in the Town of Union.
Country JAM, the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, and the Blue Ox Music Festival – all of which take place in the Town of Union.

Last summer, two new major music festivals were added to the Chippewa Valley’s cultural landscape – the Blue Ox Music Festival and the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. The new festivals, plus perennial mainstay Country JAM, all take place on the hilly, grassy festival grounds in the town of Union, just a couple miles Southwest of Eau Claire. 

But after seeing three festivals (and the hordes of music fans they bring) come through the area last summer, some residents of the Town of Union have filed a number of different complaints with the town board – a five-member board made up chairperson Fred Belay, and supervisors Gloria Bloom, Jeff Bechard, Jeff Whyte, and Deb Smith. So in January of this year, the town board adopted an ordinance that would put some limitations on the three festivals like adding fencing, reducing decibel levels, restricting alcohol sales, and more.

“We have an increasing number of homes in the area in the town of Union. Our population is increasing. At the same time, we have three festivals where we used to have one,” chairperson Fred Belay said to start the meeting. “At some point, this becomes incompatible.”

The board called a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the finer points of the ordinance with some representatives of Eaux Claires, Blue Ox, and Country Jam present. It should be noted that the ordinance is a near mirror image of an ordinance on the county level, though it was said in the meeting that Eau Claire County rarely enforces it very strictly.

“We have an increasing number of homes in the area in the town of Union. Our population is increasing. At the same time, we have three festivals where we used to have one,” Belay said to start the meeting. “At some point, this becomes incompatible.”

At the meeting, the board ultimately decided to defer the enforcement of the ordinance until October of this year – after all three festivals take place this summer – in a 3-2 vote. In the meantime, the festivals are already taking steps to accommodate the concerns by agreeing to beef up fencing around the grounds (to keep festivalgoers – and garbage – in).

The ordinance, as it stood before deferment, would’ve basically made it so the festivals couldn’t happen in any capacity without breaking it. The town board decided Tuesday to form a group made up of board members, Union residents, festival representatives, and others to tackle negotiating the finer points of the ordinance by October.

“This is tremendously complicated. Our hope is that you would agree to put the substantive provisions of the ordinance on hold,” said attorney Richard White, who is representing Eaux Claires, about the ordinance. "We need to do this and do it right.”

For now, while the ordinance is debated and modified, the festivals will proceed as normal while doing their best to make their own internal adjustments so the festivals can be a cool thing for not only the people that attend them, but the surrounding community as well.

Comments 16

Monday, Mar. 14th, 2016

"I Tried the New Leinenkugel's Restaurant in Kansas City"

To get this out of the way upfront, the Kansas City Leinenkugel’s is not a full blown taste of home. But it's also definitely not a failure. I moved down to Missouri a couple years ago and was beyond excited for the announcement that the Pride of Chippewa Falls was opening its first ever restaurant just a few blocks from my house.

Some background: Last fall, Leinenkugel's announced it would open its first establishment in Kansas City's Power & Light District, an area downtown mostly renowned for drunken DJ nights and US National Team soccer games. It was surprising, but Leinenkugel's is incredibly popular 500 miles south of its origin.

Walking in, it's definitely the swankiest place in which I've ever drank a Leinie's.* The white brick and clean wood is stark and minimalist – a nod to the cabin with a modern twist. The giant, red Leinenkugels sign sits above the 15 mixed company taps, but that's about the only way the space reflects its name. I was surprised by the lack of kitsch pieces from the Leinie Lodge, which would have gone a long way to warm up the space.

But back to the important stuff: Those tap lines brought a little disappointment. There was no Original (though we were assured it was on its way), and no Red or Honey Weiss (which didn't seem likely anytime soon). The sweeter collection was the centerpiece, with the Summer Shandy, Grapefruit Shandy, Berryweiss, and Sunset Wheat. I drowned my sorrows in a Creamy Dark (as delicious as I remembered) and the other Wisconsinites with me went with the Big Eddy, which was a nice, local touch.

The menu also had a handful of the now-classic beer mixers, such as Black Bear (Creamy Dark and Berry Weiss) and Sunset Red (Sunset Wheat and, unfortunately, Killian's Red). It was rounded out with a handful of (mostly) Leinenkugel's based beer cocktails. I went with the Lumberjack, a sweeter take on a horsefeather with Woodford Reserve, ginger beer, maple syrup and Coor's Banquet. Yeah, Coor's. No, I wasn't happy about that. But the drink was well made and the beer actually brought a really nice mellow flavor to the usually sharp cocktail.

By the time the food came I was feeling pretty disappointed in the Wisconsin-ness of the Kansas City Leinenkugel's, but then I tasted the curds and the beer cheese dip. If nothing else, the sampler platter brought me right back home. The cheese curds were salty and light and the beer cheese dip (served with pretzels) was thick and flavorful and straight from a Wisconsin family's traditions. For an entree I decided to go for the street tacos. Yes, one of the biggest things the Chippewa Falls-based locale pushes is street tacos. The Boo-Yah Chicken tacos were fine, but lacked the flavor of the classic dish.

All in all the Kansas City Leinenkugel's is a bit Leinie's Light (which was another missing selection). But venturing in with a handful of Missouri locals and Wisconsin ex-pats we had a pretty great time introducing the Wisconsin culture, which is exactly what this place seems built for

And if people really love it, they'll just need to come up to Chippewa Falls for the real experience.

*Fun fact: None of the Missourians we went with had any idea what 'Leinie's' was and referred to it only in the more formal, 'Leinenkugel's,' despite being very familiar with the brand.

Comments 8

Tuesday, Mar. 8th, 2016

5 Numbers Detailing Downtown Development in Eau Claire

Let's take a dive into the important figures to be found in Downtown Eau Claire Inc.’s recently released 2015 annual report ...

1. $250 Million

The total assessed value of property in downtown Eau Claire, including Water Street, in 2015.

2. 24.3%

The increase in downtown property values between 2010 and 2015.

3. 3,375

The estimated number of downtown residents, a figure that’s projected to grow to 3,545 by 2019.

4. 683

The total number of businesses in downtown Eau Claire, including Banbury Place.

5. 10,090

The total number of employees in downtown Eau Claire, representing 19 percent of the city’s entire workforce.

Comments 5

Monday, Mar. 7th, 2016

March 17-19: Eau Claire's Birthday Sale Weekend at The Local Store

➜ 15% OFF all 'Eau Claire' apparel, art, things, books, etc. • Thu Mar. 17, Fri Mar. 18, Sat Mar. 19 

All weekend, March 17–19, receive 15% OFF ALL "Eau Claire" apparel, art, things, and books at The Local Store! Eau Claire's Official Birthday is March 19 and we're turning 144! Join us at The Local Store and Volume One Gallery for a weekend of sales and events celebrating our great city.

Other events! Besides live music from Eduardo Rafael on Friday night (Mar. 18, 7pm), we'll also feature an Eau Claire History Reading & Discussion on Thursday evening (Mar. 17, 7pm), and a screen of the retro-tastic 1950s film Our Town Eau Claire on Saturday afternoon (Mar. 19. 3pm).

PLUS: We're showcasing and offering a vintage Eau Claire board game featuring beloved landmarks and local businesses. ONLY TEN COPIES EXIST!  $35, first come, first serve, limit one per customer.

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5 Local Things Turning 100 Years Old This Year

Rainbow Arch Bridge, a downtown Chippewa Falls
The "Rainbow Arch Bridge" in downtown Chippewa Falls. Image: Creative Commons

The following local things and institutions came into being 100 years ago this year ... 

1. UW-Eau Claire

Considering that UWEC named its newest building Centennial Hall, you may have guessed the campus had a big birthday coming up. Indeed, UWEC turns 100 this year. What is now a university with more than 10,000 students opened in the fall of 1916 as the Eau Claire State Normal School with a class of just 159 young people who hoped to become elementary and secondary school teachers.

2. Gillette Safety Tire Co.

The name of this company and its founder may not ring many bells today, but you’re certainly familiar with their legacy. Raymond B. Gillette created his eponymous firm in 1916, and the next year it produced its first anti-blowout rubber tire. Tires soon became huge business in Eau Claire, and the company was bought out in 1940 by the U.S. Rubber Co., later known as Uniroyal. In short, no Gillette, no Banbury Place.

3. Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church’s roots date back to 1858, making it one of Eau Claire’s oldest religious institutions. The original church was built in 1874 and was replaced in 1916 by the current cathedral, which stands at the corner of Farwell and Lake streets. The neo-Gothic stone church, known for its stained-glass windows, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. Rainbow Arch Bridge

The Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge, a downtown Chippewa Falls landmark, carries Spring Street over Duncan Creek. The 93-foot, single-span reinforced concrete arch bridge is such a landmark that it is depicted on various city signs and logos. A long-awaited renovation of the bridge is slated for this year.

5. Harvey Hall

Menomonie’s UW-Stout may be a quarter-century older than its cousin, UW-Eau Claire, but one of its most prominent buildings, Harvey Hall, is the same age as UWEC. Originally the household arts building, Harvey Hall now houses the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Closed since 2014 for extensive renovations, the hall will celebrate a grand re-opening this fall.

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Thursday, Mar. 3rd, 2016

Looking at Nature in a Brand New Way

THIS CONCEPTUAL DRAWING SHOWS WHAT PART OF THE DISCOVERY ROOM AT BEAVER CREEK RESERVE WILL LOOK LIKE AFTER UPCOMING REMODELING.
THIS CONCEPTUAL DRAWING SHOWS WHAT PART OF THE DISCOVERY ROOM AT BEAVER CREEK RESERVE WILL LOOK LIKE AFTER UPCOMING REMODELING.

Over the course of more than three decades, the Discovery Room at Beaver Creek Reserve’s Wise Nature Center has welcomed more than 1 million visitors, a large share of them students on field trips getting valuable, hands-on experiences with nature. “Every 6- to 10-year-old who walks into that room for the first time is awestruck,” explains Erik Keisler, Beaver Creek’s executive director. And what kid wouldn’t be awestruck in a room filled with live snakes, mounted lynx and deer, piles of pelts, animal skulls, and much more?

But the Discovery Room has become a victim of the passage of time and its own popularity. All that hands-on attention from little hands has taken its toll on the exhibits.

A few years ago a survey found that the Nature Center was Beaver Creek’s biggest draw, a realization that led to a fundraising campaign to completely remodel the Discovery Room to better meet the needs of 21st century visitors. That doesn’t mean a lot of fancy technology, Keisler explains. In fact, the room will remain relatively low-tech and hands-on. However, it will serve less as a stand-alone attraction and more as an introduction to the natural adventures that can be experienced by visitors just outside on Beaver Creek’s 400 acres. “This is a starting point to get people connected with nature,” Keisler says of the Discovery Room. “This is not an end destination.”

Beaver Creek has raised $425,000 for the remodeling, $200,000 of it coming in December from a Scheels of Eau Claire matching grant. The project has several elements. First, what is now a library will be converted into an early childhood area. “We definitely want to invite a younger audience to fall in love with nature earlier, because they will carry that relationship all through their lives,” Keisler says. The Discovery Room will be broken into habitat areas, featuring Wisconsin flora and fauna in prairie savannah, deep woods, and stream environments. A display featuring beavers will be replaced by a model of a beaver den in the bank of a stream, which will be large enough for children to crawl inside. There will be three giant trees in the room full of taxidermy specimens, as well as areas to learn about animal tracks, fur, and scat; tanks featuring live turtles, snakes, and fish; and an area devoted to birding, a popular Beaver Creek activity.

As well as remodeling the Discovery Room, the fundraising will also pay for new outdoor equipment that visitors can use at Beaver Creek, including cross-country skis, GPS devices, kayaks, and archery equipment.

The Discovery Room will be open until about March 5; after that, exhibits will be removed and remodeling will start. The project is expected to be done by late May or early June, with a ribbon cutting tentatively planned for June 29. In the meantime, live animals that were part of the Discovery Room will be housed in the Savannah Room on the Nature Center’s lower level. Visitors who come to Beaver Creek for the annual French Toast Breakfast on Sunday, March 19, will be able to see displays of what the Discovery Room will look like in a few short months. In addition to the Discovery Room revamp, Beaver Creek has recently upgraded its trail system – complete with new bridges, signs, and maps – as well as created three outdoor “nature nooks” aimed at the youngest visitors.

“I think people will be surprised to come back out to the Reserve who haven’t been here in even maybe a year to see how much will be different by June 29,” Keisler said.

To learn more or to make a donation, visit beavercreekreserve.org.

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Someone Ranked Wisconsin's 'Most Boring Cities'

Every Wisconsin road trip usually involves going through that one middle-of-nowhere town that appears devoid of all hope and happiness. It makes folks wonder what caused people to settle in such a dreary, sullen location.

BUT. If you’re looking for which one of those cities is the most dreary, look no further. An article posted by RoadSnacks did the number crunching and compiled data of the 10 most "boring cities" in Wisconsin. The data is based off of average population density and age, households that are married and/or with kids, and households with people over 65. To avoid any misconstrued data, all those tiny towns with less than 5000 people were taken out of the equation. Just remember that this is based off of a set of statistics and does not include any actual opinions.

Some might even think a statistical qualification of "boring" is downright ridiculous. 

HOWEVER. According to such data, the number one most boring Sconnie city seems to be Hobart, a village outside of Green Bay. With a population of around 6,500, an average age of about 42, and over 68 percent of households being married, it may not be the first choice if you‘re looking for a place to party hard and hang out with all the super cool party people.

A lot of the places on this list seem to be suburbs of Milwaukee like Muskego, Brookfield, and New Berlin. Milwaukee just wants all the fun for itself, I guess. So where does Milwaukee fall on this list? Well, in the 140 cities they surveyed, Milwaukee was the 132nd most boring city, or the 9th most exciting, if you want to look at it that way.

OK, but how boring are we?

The Chippewa Valley, as the data shows, did better than most areas. The most "boring" local city being Chippewa Falls coming in at number 90. Menomonie came in as the 10th least boring at number 131. And nearly topping the list as one of the statistically least boring cities in Wisconsin (let's add that to the sign) is Eau Claire at number 134. Maybe it’s the abundance of tiny towns in the surrounding area making us look good. Maybe it’s the hordes of college kids running rampant through the city on party buses. But I doubt it.

Either way, I'll take it as a compliment.

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Tuesday, Mar. 1st, 2016

Are These the Best Burgers in Wisconsin?

In 1885, the rest of the country may not have known it yet, but Wisconsin did America the biggest solid you can give a nation: As legend has it, we brought delicious hamburgers to the world. From that point on, the burger has been enhanced, improved, and turned into a work of art on a plate. Now you can saunter into any state of the Union and find a meaty masterpiece.

And Wisconsin is, of course, no exception. This article in Travel Wisconsin lists off their picks for the most deliciously hamburger road trips you can take in the dairy state. Six cities believe they hold the key to the best burger around. From fine dining restaurants to national chains to even right here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin has a unique burger for everyone.

The Court ’n House Bar & Grill's
The Court ’n House Bar & Grill's "Mell Burger"

Travel Wisconsin says, if you're searching for some Sconnie meaty marvels, then a good place to start is right here in the Chippewa Valley at Court ’n House Bar & Grill. Described as having some pretty creative burgers, it’s a great place to go and find a juicy burger, and if you go on a Thursday, there’s a two-for-one special. The Court ’n House currently holds the top spot in Volume One's annual Best of the Valley Reader Poll for Best Burger, and it appears on Trip Advisor’s top 20 restaurants in Eau Claire – so there’s no reason not to see what all the fuss is about.

Perhaps you’re looking to find something outside a local tavern. Maybe you want to try a burger that is the epitome of finesse and beauty between two fluffy bun halves. If that’s the case, then you’re apparently looking for the Davanti Burger at Francesca’s al Lago in Madison. It’s a charbroiled burger covered in things like white cheddar, a magical substance known as "bacon jam," and roasted garlic aioli.

With many other places on the list, it’s certainly a journey into which you can sink your teeth.

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Thursday, Feb. 25th, 2016

A Closer Look at UWEC’s Plans to Reboot Garfield Avenue

A $12.4 million project to completely refashion Garfield Avenue on UW-Eau Claire’s campus and create an outdoor classroom, a scenic overlook, and an amphitheater will likely begin as early as next year. On Wednesday, the city of Eau Claire’s Parks and Waterways Commission gave a unanimous thumbs-up to early design plans for the Garfield Avenue Redevelopment Project.

The project amounts to a long sought-after and complete redesign of that area of lower campus, both above the ground and below. Most of the campus portion of Garfield Avenue will be removed to create a pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfare, which will be moved farther away from the Chippewa River than the current street. (While today you can drive west on Garfield all the way to the foot of the infamous campus hill, after the project is finished only emergency and service vehicles will be allowed west of the Ecumenical Religious Center.)

Meanwhile, the south end of the footbridge over the river will be reconfigured to increase safety and accessibility. Instead of sharp 90-degree turns, the bike and pedestrian ramps to and from the bridge will be straighter and have more gradual slopes. And that’s not all, according to a UWEC press release:

The project will also entail surface improvements including the removal of the Putnam Parking Lot to create outdoor classroom space; creation of a scenic overlook where students, faculty, staff and the public can gather; construction of a small outdoor amphitheater that can be used for classes, performances or informal gatherings; and new pathways along the Chippewa River.

In addition to all this aesthetically pleasing (not to mention useful) above-ground work, about three-quarters of the project’s cost will be for the kind of things that you can’t see but that are vital to the university’s operation. A whole host of aging utility pipes and lines – water, sewer, steam, electrical, telephone, IT – will be replaced between the base of the campus hill and Park Avenue (where Hibbard Hall is). In addition, a natural gas line will be extended down the Garfield Avenue corridor to the site where UWEC wants to build a new science building. (Spoiler alert: Say goodbye to Putnam and Katharine Thomas halls by 2030.)

So, where did UWEC get $12.4 million? The project was part of the 2013-15 state budget, with half to be paid through state tax-supported bonds and the other through bonds funded with university revenue.

As with any major project, this one requires numerous approvals. Over the next couple of months, expect the Eau Claire Plan Commission, the Eau Claire City Council, the UW System Board of Regents, and the State Building Commission to chew it over and offer their input. If all the right boxes are checked, work is expected to start in the spring of 2017 and to end by the fall of 2019.

To learn more about the Garfield Avenue project, visit http://www.uwec.edu/facprojects/garfield.htm

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Monday, Feb. 22nd, 2016

Developer has New Building Plans for Phoenix Park Neighborhood

The block – which is bordered by North Barstow, Wisconsin, and Galloway streets – is currently a parking lot.
The block in question – which is bordered by North Barstow, Wisconsin, and Galloway streets – is currently a parking lot.

Eau Claire developer Geoff Moeding wants to build three new buildings worth $14 million in the undeveloped parcel known as Block 7 in downtown Eau Claire, including one building that would be designed as living/working space for small-business owners. Moeding, who has been involved with the construction of four other buildings in the neighborhood, presented plans to the city Redevelopment Authority on Feb. 17. The block – which is bordered by North Barstow, Wisconsin, and Galloway streets – is currently a parking lot, and will remain so until a city parking ramp is completed later this year one block south. Moeding’s plan includes a four-story building facing North Barstow that would include six to 10 storefronts on the ground floor with apartments upstairs, which would be ideally suited as residences for the stores’ owners. The building would include a total of 45 to 56 apartments, he said. The other two buildings – which would face Wisconsin and Galloway streets, respectively, would each feature 30-40 apartments. Moeding is asking for $2 million in tax increment financing to complete the project. The RDA took no action on the plan, and Moeding expects to return with more information for the committee at its March 16 meeting.

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