Monday, Jan. 25th, 2016

ESSAY: Aaron Rodgers Is One Classy Dude

Image: Mike Morbeck

As Packer fans, we're still heartbroken by the loss to the Cardinals back on January 16. After yet another beautiful Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary touchdown, it was tough to watch that broken play in overtime that led to the game-losing touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald.

It's always hard for the season to end in a loss; however, Aaron Rodgers spoke during his post-game press conference in a manner that, once again showed us that he is one classy dude.

After the crushing defeat, instead of focusing on how hard it was to take the loss, he said, "I'm just really proud of these guys." He continued to talk about how the team battled, how the guys are warriors.

"I love being a Packer. We're fortunate enough to play this great game and to be a part of such a special organization like we are." – Aaron Rodgers, classy man

The best quote of the press conference to me was easily, "I love being a Packer." He also said, "We're fortunate enough to play this great game and to be a part of such a special organization like we are." As Packer fans, we've been lucky to be able to cheer for one of the best, most iconic sports organizations in the world. Rodgers continued to explain why losing to end the season is so tough, "One moment you're hanging out with your teammates on a road trip and the next moment everybody goes their separate ways. The relationships are so special." He continued to talk about how, throughout a crazy season, the the team stuck together and continued to believe in each other.

I thought his most profound statement was this: "There's so much hope and belief."

Rodgers has made us all believe and given us all hope – on the football field and off. On the field, it feels like the Packers have a chance to win every single game. Off the field Rodgers is a part of the MACC Fund where he brings a lot of joy and hope to some truly unique people, meeting and sharing stories with some great people, bringing awareness to pediatric cancer and other important causes.

"We're just shining the spotlight on some people that are doing some amazing things. We're just using our spotlight, and it's pretty awesome." says Rodgers.

You can see some super inspiring videos where Aaron helps bring awareness to these causes at itsaaron.com, further showing his remarkable, genuine character.

Warning: Those videos may bring a grown man to tears. So I hear.

We've all "gotten to know" Aaron through his interviews, radio show, seeing him play on the field, and don't forget about the TV commercials where he shows off his personality on a regular basis. The more we see of him, the more you can tell how caring, humble, and cool he is under fire.

This season he showed us a different side. He showed patience and his ability to face adversity – and still help the Packers find a chance to contend for a title.

As Packer fans over the last 20 years, we've never experienced a roller coaster season quite like this past one. After starting 6-0 with wins over the really solid Seahawks and Chiefs teams, we all had the Packers at the top of our power rankings and penciled them in to play in Super Bowl 50.

Then they lost the next two games to the Broncos and Panthers, both really good teams that will be meeting in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

Then the Pack lost to the Lions at home, something that hasn't happened since 1991. Everyone wrote the Packers off and said their season was over.

Although that loss back on November 15 was disappointing, it was Rodgers' class that once again shined through in the post-game press conference, when he singled out a fan that had yelled out a rude anti-Muslim remark during a moment of silence to honor the Paris terrorist attack victims. Rodgers said, "I must admit, though, I was very disappointed with whoever the fan was who made a comment that I thought was really inappropriate during the moment of silence. It’s that kind of prejudicial ideology that I think puts us in the position that we’re in today, as a world.”

When the media was focused on a loss, Rodgers made it a point to use his voice to show that he is one of the most humane players in the league.

The Chip On Aaron's Shoulder

Image: Mike Morbeck

When it comes to his success on the field, it's obvious that there is a sizable chip on Aaron's shoulder. In a 2012 ESPN E:60 piece (watch it below), Rodgers says he feels like he has always been overlooked, under-appreciated, and felt like he deserved an opportunity.

Throughout high school he wasn't recruited by any major colleges. His mom said he kept his college rejection letters as motivation when several teams didn't feel he was good enough to play for their University. He ended up playing at Butte Community College near his hometown of Chico, CA to which he still shouts out on Sunday Night Football introductions.

Although he left Butte for a bigger, more visible school, in an interview after his last game at Butte, Rodgers said, "Butte has been everything I've hoped and even more," acknowledging his appreciation for the opportunity to continue to show the world that he could play. He said he flew under the radar and that was the best thing that happened to him. The chip on his shoulder grew as he always felt the need to prove himself.

Although he has been doubted throughout his career, Rodgers has never lacked confidence. He says confidence is the most important trait of a quarterback, especially to be able to instill that confidence in his teammates.

Rodgers has certainly instilled confidence in Packer fans.

After proving his skills at Cal, Rodgers was projected by some scouts to be the first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. It just so happened that the team he loved growing up, the San Francisco 49ers had the first overall pick. They instead selected Alex Smith and Rodgers kept dropping and fell to the Packers at the 24th pick, making the chip on his shoulder even bigger.

Rodgers admitted it was embarrassing, but he would handle that small setback with class, saying that he couldn't wait to get in to meet his Packer teammates and to learn the system.

Of course, he would have to sit behind the living legend Brett Favre and the awkwardness that Favre would put Rodgers and the Packers' organization through. Despite the media attention, the questions about wanting to play, the retiring and un-retiring, fans wanting Favre over him and all the crazy things that would make any of us bitter, Rodgers remained humble and classy, never saying a bad word about Favre, the fans, or the Packers' organization. He just kept working.

A few years ago at the NFL Combine, I ran into legendary Sports Illustrated writer Peter King and we spoke about Rodgers. When King found out I'm from Wisconsin and a Packer fan, he just shook his head and said, "Man, how your QB handled that Favre situation was just stupidly polite!" He continued to rant about how we've never seen a guy like this before, who played at such a high level and carried himself in the respectable manner in which Rodgers carries himself.

High praise for Rodgers once again.

"I don't really desire anymore to be the best quarterback in the NFL. I want to be remembered as one of the best men that ever played quarterback in the NFL."

Those closest to him have great stories about his class as well. In that same ESPN piece, Aaron's' mom Darla talked about what Aaron told her. "He said my goals have changed, mom. I don't really desire anymore to be the best quarterback in the NFL. I want to be remembered as one of the best men that ever played quarterback in the NFL."

That may be one of the most profound things I've heard from any athlete anywhere.

Aaron has led the Packers to 7 straight Playoff appearances. He's a 2-time NFL MVP, a Super Bowl Champion and Super Bowl MVP. He's killing it on the field.

He's also super entertaining off the field. Back in June Rodgers' girlfriend Olivia Munn posted a video of her with a sword, with Aaron in the background swinging what appears to be a bamboo stick. Then in December, she posted a photo of herself in a Star Wars t-shirt, with Aaron wearing a full-on Obi-Wan Kenobi robe.

Rodgers isn't afraid to have fun in life and has demonstrated a pretty great sense of humor, as heard on his radio show and in the media throughout the years. One of my favorite things about him is that he's a big Vlade Divac fan.

Aaron's also not afraid to show off his brains. As if his film study and defense dissection isn't enough, he got a 1310 on his SATs back in the day, and he recently won Celebrity Jeopardy, seemingly a dream come true.

We've heard stories about how important it is to him to really get to know the names of his teammates and their wives and kids. That team building and team chemistry really shows through on game days. He has his teammate's backs and as fans, it feels like he has ours as well.

The traits that he says scouts overlook are character, mental toughness, and physical toughness. I'd add heart and drive to that list for Rodgers.

The Packers are the lifeblood of Wisconsin and Rodgers is the lifeblood of the Packers. We've never witnessed a person like him before. I'm comfortable saying that Aaron Rodgers is the most loved and respected athlete we've ever seen.

Stay classy Aaron. See you next season.

Watch E:60 - Aaron Rodgers

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Cannery Plannery: Creating a redevelopment vision for Eau Claire’s west bank neighborhood

CITIZENS BREWING WITH CIVIC ENGAGEMENT. Phil Johnson of Ayres Associates discussed preliminary plans for the Cannery Redevelopment District in front of a standing-room-only audience during a community vision session January 21 at Lazy Monk Brewing.
CITIZENS BREWING WITH CIVIC ENGAGEMENT. Phil Johnson of Ayres Associates discussed preliminary plans for the Cannery Redevelopment District in front of a standing-room-only audience during a community vision session January 21 at Lazy Monk Brewing.

From an indoor public market to mixed-income housing to riverside trails, there is no shortage of ideas for the future of the Cannery District, a 30-acre neighborhood on the west bank of the Chippewa River. The district, formerly the site of canneries and other industrial facilities roughly across the river from downtown Eau Claire, is now largely vacant and has been eyed by the city for redevelopment for several years.

This pending rebirth was the subject of a standing-room-only community visioning session Jan. 21 at Lazy Monk Brewing, 97 W. Madison St. More than 80 community members packed a conference room to hear a presentation about tentative plans for the district and to voice their opinions about what should be there.

“We have found that redevelopment is a marathon rather than a sprint.”
– Mike Schatz, City of Eau Claire economic development administrator

“We’ve been slowly buying up properties on the riverside,” explained Mike Schatz, the city’s economic development director. Currently, the city’s Redevelopment Authority is working with Family Video to acquire land along the riverfront, allowing the creation of a public trail that would run from the recently opened High Bridge at the north end of the district to Madison Street in the south. The trail would then go under the Madison Street bridge and continue along the river behind the new Lazy Monk site, formerly Charleson’s Interior Design.

The RDA has also bought numerous other properties with the hope of turning them into new public spaces, such as parks, as well as selling them to private developers for new uses. Schatz said the RDA is a year or two from buying all the properties it is interested in. After that, feedback gathered from the public will begin to shape details of the city’s plans.

“We have found that redevelopment is a marathon rather than a sprint,” Schatz told the audience. He explained that Eau Claire-based architectural and engineering firm Ayres Associates was hired to work on two phases of the project: designing the public spaces for the district as well as creating plans for overall redevelopment, whether it’s for residential, commercial, or retail use.

Phil Johnson, a landscape architect with Ayres Associates, explained that a draft plan prepared last year recommended creating three public areas in the district. At the north end would be the 4.2-acre Highbridge Neighborhood Park, which would include two river overlooks, a skateboard plaza, a “flex field” that could be used for youth soccer, and a paved court that could be used for basketball and pickleball. Just to the south would be the 8.8-acre Cannery Park, which could include a performance area with hillside seating, a sledding run, a winter “chill zone” with fire pits, family pavilions, a “fitness garden,” and space for disc golf. Finally, the Cannery Trail Corridor would run along the rest of the river, providing upper and lower trails for walkers and bikers as well as space for disc golf and a kayak/tube launch. These facilities would help replace a current park, Kessler Field, which is slated to be redevelopment.

This image from a preliminary public space plan for the Cannery Redevelopment District shows a cross-section of how the property could look, including new development and two riverside trail corridors. Click for a closer look!
This image from a preliminary public space plan for the Cannery Redevelopment District shows a cross-section of how the property could look, including new development and two riverside trail corridors. Click for a closer look!

Schatz explained that the park ideas are just that – ideas – and haven’t been approved by the Redevelopment Authority or the City Council. If and when plans are OK’d, the city would have to determine how to pay for the new public amenities.

Audience members were asked numerous questions about potential uses for the Cannery District, voting with the help of color-coded paddles. The straw poll indicated that both neighborhood residents and other community members in attendance broadly supported the construction of multiple kinds of residences in the district, including market-rate, senior citizen, and low-income housing. There was also strong support for making the neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly as well as making it the site of food-related businesses such as restaurants and a grocery store – something that is lacking in that part of town.

During a freewheeling comment period, residents piped in about what they saw as the positive potential for the district. Many stressed the natural beauty of the riverfront and the potential for environmentally friendly components such as rain gardens, “green” street lighting, and plants that would attract pollinators such as bees. Others emphasized the potential creation of a “food hub” in the neighborhood that could connect people of diverse backgrounds around the basic human need of eating.

The latter idea is the subject of a separate city-led effort. With the help of $100,000 in grant funding and donations, the city plans to hire a consultant to explore the idea of creating a year-round public indoor market, said Ned Noel, associated city planner. Such a market – which could be a nonprofit entity, a private business, or some combination of the two – could be built in the Cannery District or elsewhere, Noel said.

Following the meeting, Schatz said the feedback would be discussed by the Redevelopment Authority in the near future. After that, conceptual plans for the Cannery District will begin to take shape.

To learn more about the city of Eau Claire’s redevelopment efforts in the Cannery District and elsewhere, visit eauclairedevelopment.com.

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Friday, Jan. 22nd, 2016

Looking Ahead: You Can't Spell 'Hotel' Without 'Hot'

The Lismore, formerly the Ramada Inn YOU CAN’T SPELL ‘HOTEL’ WITHOUT ‘HOT’ as tourist industry grows, Valley will welcome five new inns - words: tom giffey, photo: andrea paulseth
The Lismore, formerly the Ramada Inn (as if you didn't know that).

Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to call 2016 the “Year of the Hotel” in the Chippewa Valley. After all, we’ve had hotels around here since Eau Claire was born 160 years ago. Nonetheless, the label has some merit. If all things go as planned, the Eau Claire area will see five new lodging establishments open (or re-open) this year: The Lismore, formerly the Ramada Inn on South Barstow Street; the Oxbow, formerly the Green Tree Inn, a few blocks away; the Fairfield Inn & Suites at the interchange of U.S. 53 and the North Crossing; the Staybridge Suites in Altoona’s River Prairie development, just east of Eau Claire; and the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites on Bridge Street in Chippewa Falls.

Excluding for a moment the Chippewa Falls hotel and its 45 rooms, the four new hotels in Eau Claire County alone will add 367 new rooms to the 2,000 already provided by hotels and motels in the area served by Visit Eau Claire, the regional tourism promotion group.

Having shiny new hotels might be nice for visitors, you say, but what about the proprietors of those existing 2,000 rooms? Won’t business simply shift from existing hotels to new ones? Not necessarily, says Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John.

“There are many weekends of the year when we need more inventory in the market,” John explains. Especially during major music festivals and sports tournaments, she says, “There are times when we literally need more rooms.” Overall, tourism is a growing business in the Chippewa Valley, which increases demand for accommodations as well.

Two of the hotels – The Lismore, which is expected to open in April, and The Oxbow, whose owners are aiming for August – will fill an important gap, namely the lack of overnight accommodations in downtown Eau Claire.

“It’s pretty acute,” John says of the need for downtown rooms. “There’s definitely growing, pent-up demand for convention business. State associations are looking for a downtown location.” With its remodeled convention space, which is already in use, The Lismore will help meet this demand. John says she has fielded unsolicited calls from groups wanting to hold conventions at The Lismore.

“We have designed the restaurant, coffee shop, and bar with locals in mind first.” – Zach Halmstad of Pablo Properties, which owns The Lismore

The two downtown hotels will also provide other amenities lacking in the market, many of which will appeal to locals and travelers alike. “We have designed the restaurant, coffee shop, and bar with locals in mind first,” says Zach Halmstad of Pablo Properties, which owns the hotel. The Lismore’s restaurant will be named The Informalist, which “will focus on locally sourced food and a great wine menu in a contemporary casual setting,” Halmstad says. It will feature a penny-topped bar overlooking the kitchen, a wood-fired pizza oven, and will be open seven days a week. The hotel will also feature a second-floor bar, dubbed simply Dive, which will be where the hotel’s pool used to be. In addition to craft cocktails, Dive will feature glass walls and a walkout to a rooftop patio with views of downtown.

The hotel will include 112 rooms, including five one-bedroom suites and two two-bedroom suites. “This renovation is creating a building that is modern with hints of raw industrial charm inside and out,” says Julia Johnson, also of Pablo Properties. “It will certainly be a different feel from some our favorite haunts with walls full of old relics to stare at, but we tried to offer something different focused on the beauty of natural materials, without getting too contemporary or out-of-place for Eau Claire.”

Elsewhere in downtown Eau Claire, the 30-room Oxbow – whose ownership group includes Halmstad as well as Volume One editor/publisher Nick Meyer, Eau Claire Regional Arts Center director Ben Richgruber, and Grammy-winning musician Justin Vernon – will offer a “boutique” experience, including a regionally flavored restaurant created by local chef Nathan Berg; a bar and jazz club; an in-house art gallery; and canoe, tube, kayak, and bike rentals just a few dozen yards from the downtown’s rivers and bike trails. Renovation began in earnest in the fall, and the owners aim to open the hotel by the second annual Eaux Claires Music & Arts festival this August.

The area’s other new hotels will be affiliated with major brands. The 90-unit Fairfield Inn & Suites, a franchise of Marriott, is slated to open this spring on the northeast side of Eau Claire in the Princeton Crossing development. The hotel is being developed by Haselwander Companies.

About a mile further south on U.S. 53, the 120-room Staybridge Suites is being built in the northwest quadrant of the River Prairie Development, which straddles U.S. 53. The 90,000-square-foot facility, which is being developed by Larson Companies, will cater to business and extended-stay travelers when it opens in July.

Meanwhile, in Chippewa Falls, ground was broken in early January for the Cobblestone Hotel, which is part of a Neenah-based chain of 74 hotels in 12 states. The Cobblestone will be built on the former site of the Plaza Building on Bridge Street at the entrance to the Chippewa Falls downtown. It’s expected to open in August.

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Wednesday, Jan. 20th, 2016

Blue Ox Festival plucks up Béla Fleck and more for 2016

Blue Ox Music Festival 2015
Blue Ox Music Festival 2015

Last year’s inaugural Blue Ox Music Festival was this close to being rained out. Heavy summer storms hit overnight just before the weekend. But instead, the fest turned into a delightfully muddy, banjo-pickin’, foot-stompin’ hoot with a killer lineup of some of biggest and brightest stars in the bluegrass genre.

It’s 2016 now, and the organizers are looking to dig in and make a statement. Curated by Minneapolis bluegrass outfit Pert Near Sandstone, the festival just added a bunch of huge acts to this summer’s lineup, including none other than Béla Fleck and the Flecktones and the returns of the legendary Del McCoury Band and Greensky Bluegrass. Also, look out for other 2016 Blue Ox newcomers Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Charlie Parr, The Big Wu, and the Evergreen Grass Band (for a little local flavor).

It’s all set to take place at the Whispering Pines campground just southwest of Eau Claire on June 9 through 11. For a limited time, three-day general admission Blue Ox tickets are available for a cool $130 (includes first come-first serve camping and parking) at www.blueoxmusicfestival.com. All prices are set to go up on Jan. 28, so snap ‘em up while they’re cheap!

This lineup keeps getting better and better as the summer slowly approaches. It’s sure to be a real treat for music lovers all over the Valley and beyond. All we can do now is wait … and hope it doesn’t rain again.

Check out the full daily lineup below.

BLUE OX MUSIC FESTIVAL DAILY LINEUP

Thursday, June 9

Leftover Salmon
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
The Big Wu
The Cactus Blossoms
The Last Revel (Sidestage) 

Friday, June 10

Greensky Bluegrass
Pert Near Sandstone
Sam Bush
The Wood Brothers
Blitzen Trapper
Head for the Hills
Charlie Parr
Sierra Hull
Ginstrings (Sidestage)
Dead Winter Carpenters (Sidestage) 

Saturday, June 11

Railroad Earth
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
Pert Near Sandstone
Del McCoury Band featuring special guests
Shovels & Rope
Nikki Lane
Jeff Austin Band
Whiskey Shivers
Tin Can Gin (Sidestage)
Evergreen Grass Band (Sidestage)

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Thursday, Jan. 14th, 2016

Discover Wisconsin to Re-air Spotlight on Eau Claire

PHOENIX PARK IN FOCUS. Discover Wisconsin turned its cameras toward all of Eau Claire last year, originally airing
PHOENIX PARK IN FOCUS. Discover Wisconsin turned its cameras toward all of Eau Claire, originally airing "Eau Claire – Hanging with the Locals" in April of 2015,

Discover Wisconsin will re-air its spotlight on Eau Claire – Eau Claire – Hanging with the Locals – this weekend on Saturday (10am) and Sunday (5pm) on WQOW.  You can watch the episode right now (which they've broken into four parts) on Discover Wisconsin's website. It originally aired in April of 2015.

➜ Also, to rev up for the re-air, Discover Wisconsin recently posted 10 Things I Love About the Eau Claire Area, listing off things like the Dells Mill and Museum, Big Falls, the Silvermine Ski Hill, and our very Local Store & Volume One Gallery.

Host Mariah Haberman
Host Mariah Haberman

The episode includes segments on some of the stuff that makes Eau Claire a unique place to live. Our favorite lawn game, kubb, gets some attention as Eric Anderson and the U.S. National Kubb Championship, which he founded, are among the features for the show. Part of our incredible music scene is also highlighted with the help of Bob Baca of UW-Eau Claire and Eau Claire Jazz Inc. and Nobuyoshi Yasuda of the Chippewa Valley Symphony. (A certainly biweekly cultural magazine will make an appearance, too.)

Discover Wisconsin partnered with Visit Eau Claire for this venture, and the episode was partially funded by a Wisconsin Department of Tourism Joint Effort Marketing Grant. Visit Eau Claire Executive Director Linda John had high praise for Discover Wisconsin, specifically the way they approached the project: “Working with Discover Wisconsin was great – they are very thorough and came in with a strong plan.”

The Discover Wisconsin episode “Eau Claire – Hanging with the Locals” will re-air at 10am Saturday, Jan. 16 and again at 5pm Sunday, Jan. 17, on our local ABC affiliate, WQOW-TV (Channel 18) You can learn more about the show and watch archived episodes at discoverwisconsin.com.

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Wednesday, Jan. 13th, 2016

Wholesome or Horrible: Wisconsin Through the Hollywood Lens

Alice Cooper in Wayne's World.
Alice Cooper gets into Milwaukee during a scene from Wayne's World.

How many movies can you name with characters from Wisconsin? What about movies that just reference Wisconsin? Even the non-film buffs among us can probably name quite a few. That's because Hollywood seems to have quite the obsession with our great state.

Films set in Wisconsin 

Wisconsin Public Radio even had an episode dedicated to just that topic not too long ago. And as they point out, it seems that whenever Hollywood wants to create a character with a wholesome background or banish someone to a horrible place – they end up with Wisconsin. (And I won't even get into Making a Murderer.)

That and much more are part of an exhibit currently running at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison. The exhibit, titled "Wisconsin Goes Hollywood", looks how we as a state are portrayed in television and film. 

You can read or listen to the whole WPR show for yourself and if you're traveling, the exhibit in Madison lasts until Feb. 13. In the meantime, here's a compilation of popular movies referencing Wisconsin!

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Tuesday, Jan. 12th, 2016

5 Record-Breaking Wisconsin Winter Weather Facts

Eau Claire's Rod & Gun Park
Eau Claire's Rod & Gun Park

1. Coldest Temperature 

So far the winter of 2015-16 has been pretty mild in the Chippewa Valley. We’re lucky the mercury hasn’t gone anywhere near the lowest temperature ever recorded in the state of Wisconsin: On Feb. 2, 1996, and again two days later, the thermometer plunged to 55 below zero in the Sawyer County village of Couderay.

2. Heaviest 24-Hour Snowfall

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the heaviest 24-hour snowfall in Wisconsin history occurred Dec. 26-27, 1904, when 26 inches fell on Neillsville. (The largest snowfall in Eau Claire was much more recent: 22 inches fell in the city on Dec. 11, 2010.)

3. Deepest Snow

As seasoned Wisconsinites know, snow has a habit of piling up over the course of the winter. The deepest accumulation of snow on record in the Badger State was the 83 inches – that’s nearly 7 feet! – measured on April 3, 1933, in the Flambeau Reservoir of far northern Wisconsin.

4. Most Snow in a Season

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is notorious for heavy snowfalls, and the extreme weather sometimes spills over onto the Wisconsin side of the state line. Our state’s greatest seasonal total for snow was during the winter of 1996-97 in Hurley, when 295.4 inches were measured. That’s almost 25 feet!

5. Highest Winter Temperature

In an era of weird weather and shifting climates, winter extremes aren’t always of the cold-and-snowy variety. Consider one of Wisconsin’s most recently established all-time records. The warmest winter temperature in state history was recorded on Feb. 26, 2000, when it was a balmy 69 degrees in Afton, Beloit, and Broadhead.

Sources: Wisconsin State Climatology Office, State Climate Extremes Committee of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Monday, Jan. 11th, 2016

Spreading Like a Virus: A tricky tale of ownership and creative work

Kobi Shaw brought her “Carol of the Bells” act to the syndicated talk show Ellen back in 2014.
Kobi Shaw brought her “Carol of the Bells” act to the syndicated talk show Ellen back in 2014.

Wanna hear something strange? I have a viral video and I am not in it. I did not film the video, nor have I ever met the person in the video. But during Christmas 2015, I had a video that went viral. A mere 30 seconds long, it was seen over 15 million times within three days.

I learned I went viral when I was tagged in a Facebook post. The video had been up for less than 24 hours and had been seen 2.5 million times. I immediately recognized the image in the screenshot, but I also knew it was not me. Out loud I cried, “NOOOOO!”

My husband and I are variety entertainers. One of our proudest original creations is a jumpsuit covered in tuned desk bells. I wear the suit and play the holiday favorite “Carol of the Bells.” This routine has opened quite a few doors for us, most notably allowing me to perform live on Ellen in 2014.

With a quick upload, someone else was now being credited for my painstaking work. Even if the video was innocently made, even if she never claimed originality, the world now thinks of the act as hers. Every time we now perform it, we are seen as the copycats of our own material.

Ellen enjoyed my act, as did many of her fans. The video that went viral was a woman in Georgia wearing a jumpsuit with the same exact bells as mine, in the same exact places on her body, exactly matching my every movement. A bend at the waist, a leg lift, a head tilt. It was all there.

Friends kept sharing the link with me until they finally realized I did not find this amusing. For my husband and me, this was our worst fear realized. Even though I performed this on national TV, we truly try to protect our material for fear of people stealing it. We work hard to present unique, unusual, and entertaining content for live audiences. That is the heart of what we do. This routine took hours of thought, creativity, originality, and practice. With a quick upload, someone else was now being credited for my painstaking work. Even if the video was innocently made, even if she never claimed originality, the world now thinks of the act as hers. Every time we now perform it, we are seen as the copycats of our own material.

We did our best to squash the situation. We appealed to the poster, who refused to remove the video, publicly dubbing us “party poopers” adding #cantstopus. Twitter and YouTube both sided with us, taking the video down when we showed them our original. But, in true Whack-A-Mole fashion, the video kept popping up in new places, on new pages from all over the world.

Disheartening, too, that many established media sites featured this woman, knowing the dispute we had with her. Glamour.com even dubbed it “the outfit that won Christmas” touting “how very fun” the woman in the video was, asking “Can we hang out soon?”

I had to stop going online. My husband tried to assert our claim of authorship by saying, “Hey, this is OUR creation!” but the Internet shouted back, “Who cares?!”

“She has every right to do this,” we were told. We were insulted, belittled, and condemned. “Get over yourself!” said some people. “I don’t care who made this up, I like this woman.”

“But, she copied it!” we said.

They replied, “Well, she did a good job of copying it, then!”

Another actual response: “Oh, does this hurt? How about a congratulatory cookie?”

We felt helpless, victimized and vilified.

The Internet has an insatiable hunger for content. The trouble is, the Internet doesn’t care where it comes from, or who made it. An item online is suddenly seen as personal property to whomever claims it.

We are developing a culture of downloaders – people who consume, but don’t create, content. And the uploaders can’t keep up. When people do manage to create, there is no permanence to their hold on their creations. Without security of ownership, the creators are likely to fade away. Admittedly, I felt like doing so in the midst of all this.

Perhaps our routine is 30 seconds of fluff. And maybe it’s idiotic to commit, emotionally, to something so frivolous. But, during these difficult times, the world needs people who devote their lives to creating silly, inspirational, or beautiful things that can bring lightness, laughter, and joy. There obviously must be a reason this video went viral in the first place. Frivolity is important, and even silliness merits protection.

So, if you don’t mind, we’d like our cookie now, please.

Kobi Shaw and her husband, Steve Russell, live in a renovated barn outside Colfax. They have performed on The Tonight Show, Regis and Kelly, and Ellen. They also presented a speech, “In Praise of Whimsy,” at UW-Stout TEDx last fall. Learn more incapablehands.com.

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Wednesday, Jan. 6th, 2016

Brewing Projekt Sets Sights on Cannery District Building Renovation

Images: The Eau Claire Brewing Project LLC
Images: The Eau Claire Brewing Project LLC

We just got some great-looking news from William Glass, owner of The Eau Claire Brewing Project LLC, (“The Brewing Projekt”) and founding owner of The Fire House bar in downtown Eau Claire. Glass is looking to negotiate the purchase of a property located at 1807 Oxford Avenue, near the small batch brewery’s current location. The idea is to “rehabilitate” the building into a destination brewery/event space. 

Check out conceptual renderings for the building above and below.

Founded in 2014, The Brewing Projekt faced a long road of red tape prior to opening, but has quickly become a well-respected member of the area’s small craft brewing scene, with its petite but popular taproom and a recent expansion into canning its beer. The operation has already outgrown its space, and Glass is hoping to find a new home in the nearby building.

Glass believes the building purchase would “save one of the last remaining historic brick buildings in Downtown Eau Claire.” He sees the renovated, 30,000 square foot space as a potential hub for the city’s ‘Cannery District” along the west bank of the Chippewa River – the next part of downtown slated for major redevelopment. The move would allow The Brewing Projekt to triple its production capacity, more than triple its workforce, and allow for statewide distribution.

Detailing his vision in an email, Glass pointed out possibilities for the building such as third floor venue and reception space with “brick walls, high wood ceilings, and windows all around offering views from the dam to Phoenix Park,” and collaborations with a proposed year-round market for the district.

He also envisions “collaborative concerts where we would bring in artists/bands to brew an exclusive beer with us then have a release party where the artist would play, we’d feature the beer, and attendees would leave with a bomber or 4pk of that beer."

Formerly, 1807 Oxford Avenue housed Silvermine Stone Co. Hopefully, negotiations to buy the building will begin soon.


Read The Brewing Projekt’s full press release ...

New development proposed by The Brewing Projekt in Downtown Eau Claire

Eau Claire, WI – January 5, 2016 – The Eau Claire Brewing Project LLC, DBA The Brewing Projekt, has proposed and is asking for an Exclusive Right to Negotiate the purchase of the property located at 1807 Oxford Avenue in Downtown Eau Claire’s newly dubbed “Cannery District.” It is The Brewing Projekt’s intent to rehabilitate the building and site into a destination brewery located on the Chippewa River in Downtown Eau Claire.

Founded in 2014, The Brewing Projekt has had great success despite facing adversity at every turn. From losing facilities, losing financing, and being denied licensure The Brewing Projekt has persevered. Within the first year of being open for business, the brewery has outgrown its first home that currently exists in the Cannery District at 2000 North Oxford Avenue. The Brewing Projekt has reached production capacity and is not able to grow outside of its current accounts and existing service area in the Chippewa Valley, Hudson, and Wausau. The Brewing Projekt currently services over eighty accounts and employs three full-­‐time staff members as well as five part-­‐time employees.

By purchasing and rehabilitating the proposed building at 1807 Oxford Avenue, The Brewing Projekt intends to save one of the last remaining historic brick buildings in Downtown Eau Claire. The Brewing Projekt hopes to save a piece of Eau Claire’s history and become a hub in the Cannery District at the same time, while creating a functional space that will attract guests from the Chippewa Valley and far beyond. The Brewing Projekt has already become an attraction for visitors from all over western Wisconsin, as well as out of town guests making their way downtown for a taste of local craft beer. By moving into this larger building, The Brewing Projekt would be able to triple its production capacity, more than triple its workforce, accommodate many more visitors, allow for statewide distribution, and save a beautiful brick building in an up-­‐and-­‐coming downtown area.

Should The Brewing Projekt acquire the property, applicable federal, and state approvals renovations would begin immediately. Portions of the building that can be saved will be, and any areas beyond repair will be razed for the construction of new structures that will house the brewery’s expansion. Renovations would be expected to finish within two years of acquisition and approvals.

The new space would total over 30,000 square feet, versus The Brewing Projekt’s current 3,000 square feet, and would include an open concept brewery, packaging, cold storage, dry storage, taproom, and retail space as well as a patio overlooking the Chippewa River.

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Tuesday, Jan. 5th, 2016

FOR REAL: Gordy’s Taking Over Mega’s Grocery Stores, While Mega Takes on Gordy’s Gas Business

Sharks vs. Jets. Capulets vs. Montagues. Mega Co-op vs. Gordy’s Market. OK, so maybe that last rivalry isn’t as heated as the first two, but the two local grocery giants have been longtime competitors for the Chippewa Valley’s shopping dollar. However, that competition will soon be no more: Gordy’s County Market and Mega Co-op announced Tuesday that they have reached a collaborative agreement under which all Mega grocery stores will become Gordy’s Markets and all Gordy’s Express convenience stores will become Mega Holiday stations. When the deal closes in late February, “Gordy’s will own and operate 24 grocery stories and Mega Co-op will own and operate 33 convenience stores and fuel centers,” the two companies said in a press release.

When the deal closes in late February, “Gordy’s will own and operate 24 grocery stories and Mega Co-op will own and operate 33 convenience stores and fuel centers,” the two companies said in a press release.

Of all the Gordy’s and Mega locations, only one will close as part of the deal: Mega Co-op East, 1201 S. Hastings Way, which moved into a brand-new building back in 2012. (There’s no word yet on what will happen to the building.) Together, the two companies employ about 2,500 people in western Wisconsin, and the firms say “they are working hard to minimize any job losses.” While the two companies will remain independent, they plan on collaborating on loyalty programs, such as Pump Perks and the Gas Rewards Program.

“This is an exciting opportunity and a true win-win for both organizations,” said David Schafer, chief financial officer of Gordy’s County Market, “This transaction will allow two strong, locally owned companies to bring enhanced value to our customers throughout western Wisconsin.” Added Mega Co-op President Mike Buck, “Both companies will be bigger and stronger as a result of this agreement. This helps ensure a positive future for both of our businesses and will allow us to focus on reinvestment, growth in a highly competitive environment, and returning patronage to our cooperative members.”

Both companies have long histories in the Chippewa Valley. Gordy’s turns 50 this year, while Mega Co-op has been around 81 years.

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