Wednesday, Jul. 6th, 2016
The City of Chippewa Falls will turn to private donors to help complete an ambitious effort to create a park along the Chippewa River downtown.
The city has already spent $3 million on the first phase of Riverfront Park, where construction is ongoing this summer. Grading and environmental remediation have been done at the site, says City Planner Jayson Smith, and now paths, an entry plaza, and fountains are being built. Landscaping with plants, flowers, bushes, trees, and turf will follow, as will the construction of a seating area along the river.
But for the full park vision to be realized, the public soon will be asked to pitch in. The city recently hired a consulting firm to prepare a plan to raise $2 million to complete the second phase of the park. The proposed fundraising campaign would begin later this year and extend into 2017, with the park slated for completion by 2018. “The study is essential as it will assess our current planning and will assist the city council in identifying an appropriate strategy for the park’s proposed fundraising plans,” Smith says.
The consulting firm, Minnesota-based Crescendo Fundraising Professionals, helped raise $4 million to expand Irvine Park Zoo. The firm has already conducted interviews and focus groups about the park project, and a study about the fundraising effort will be brought to the City Council on July 19. Smith says he expects the council to recommend moving ahead with a capital campaign, which will be well underway by the end of summer.
To help gather information for the campaign, Chippewa Falls residents are encouraged to take an online survey at www.chippewafalls-wi.gov. The deadline for the survey is Sunday, July 10.
Work has been underway for several years at the new park site, which lies south of downtown Chippewa Falls bordered by Bridge Street, River Street, and the Chippewa River, not far from the Xcel Energy dam. Overall, when the cost of property purchases and nearby street reconstruction are considered, the city has spent $11 million to improve the area in recent years, Smith says. The $3 million already spent on the park comes through a Tax Increment Financing district.
However, limits on the city’s debt load as well as the cost of other city projects – including a new fire station – will make it impossible for the city to proceed with the next phase of the project without private donations, Smith says. Phase II of park construction will include the creation of an amphitheater, more fountains and lighting, permanent restrooms, benches and picnic areas, an entryway to the park from Bay Street, and more.
If all goes as planned – and community donors open their wallets – downtown Chippewa Falls will look dramatically different in a few short years.
This poor building. The Kaiser Lumber Co. office at 1004 Menomonie Street has been through a lot in the past few years. One of the last remaining buildings from Eau Claire’s lumbering era, owner James Rolbiecki had wanted to tear it down in 2014, making way for new apartments and a new home for his main business, Riverside Bike & Skate.
But in late 2015 Rolbiecki sought – and eventually got – rezoning approval to convert the century old, historic structure into a unique restaurant and pub (the building currently houses apartments). This year, Rolbiecki realized the space was too small to be an eatery (not enough kitchen space), so he decided to remodel it into a tavern, seeking the proper permits from the Eau Claire Plan Commission.
But it looks like (to me, at least) fear of drunk college kids has hobbled the project. At last night's Plan Commission meeting, City Council Members, the Eau Claire Police Department, and the City-County Health Department recommended denying Rolbiecki's permit request. And thus it was voted down 4-3.
Basically, local authorities are worried about how many bars are already in the area, its potential to help drain police resources, and possible "overcrowding" once UW-Eau Claire's proposed $80 million Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex is built just down the street.
As quoted by the Leader-Telegram, Councilwoman and Plan Commission member Kathy Mitchell stated, “I think we’re making a big mistake if we allow a tavern here and look at the prospect of extending taverns all the way down that street. I can’t support that.”
Chad Hoyord, deputy chief of patrol at the police department, is concerned about extending the bar density seen on Water Street that far down Menomonie Street – and the increase in complaints it could bring. At one point, Hoyord mentioned how the area in question already has somewhere between six and ten taverns. (So how many is too many?)
Plan Commission Chairman Craig Brenholt was worried about the new tavern getting overwhelmed by customers (a business owner's nightmare, I'm sure) once the Sonnentag Complex is in full operation and hosting large scale events. The Leader-Telegram quotes Brenholt: "We have a very congested, or very exciting, situation, but we’re also going to have a relatively small tavern that ... could lead itself toward some of the issues that were brought up today.”
Rolbiecki did not offer any comments or arguments. I'd imagine he's frustrated – the rollercoaster his building's been on just ended by crashing into a vague bog of objections.
Friday, Jul. 1st, 2016
There are times during a Wisconsin summer when we find ourselves covered head to toe with mosquito bites and that old joke about the blood-sucking insect being the state bird isn’t very funny. Beyond the itching, mosquitoes can be truly dangerous: Around here, they can carry the West Nile virus and La Crosse encephalitis, both of which may be fatal in rare cases. One bright spot: The mosquito species that carry the Zika virus, which can cause serious birth defects, don’t live in our state.
There are 15 species in Wisconsin, but only two bite humans: the dog tick (a.k.a. the wood tick) and the tinier deer tick (a.k.a. the blacklegged tick, which may carry Lyme disease). Deer ticks have to be attached for 36-48 hours to transmit the Lyme bacteria, so be sure to check yourself thoroughly for the critters if you’ve been in the woods (or even your backyard). See pictures!
3. EASTERN MASSASAUGAS
One of only two poisonous snakes found in Wisconsin, the massasauga is a short, stout rattlesnake whose range is concentrated mainly in southwestern and central Wisconsin (You won’t find it in Eau Claire, Dunn, and Chippewa counties.) According to the Department of Natural Resources, the snake is 20-32 inches long with “large, distinct, saddle-shaped or oblong blotches” on its back. They are endangered in Wisconsin, and are usually shy around humans.
4. TIMBER RATTLERS
The state’s other poisonous snake is found mainly in rocky bluffs along rivers in southwestern Wisconsin. Timber rattlers range from 36-60 inches and have black or dark-brown bands around their bodies. Their bites can be dangerous – even deadly – but they’re generally shy and tend to rattle a lot before striking.
They won’t suck your blood, but these flying mammals are the most common species infected with rabies in Wisconsin. (No. 2 is the skunk, which you’ll want to avoid for other reasons as well.) Though bites are rare, keep yourself safe by repairing window screens and blocking even tiny holes that bats could use to get into your house.
Thursday, Jun. 30th, 2016
In this week’s issue of Time Magazine – hitting newsstands soon but online now (for a $3 fee) – you’ll find a robust story on ... Eau Claire. Yep, the iconic magazine is featuring our little chunk of Wisconsin, covering the city’s recent economic and cultural developments.
The story, part of a series called “Reasons to Celebrate America,” credits music as a major starting point in Eau Claire’s recent evolutions. It highlights the region’s lineup of summer music festivals (focusing on Eaux Claires), Justin Vernon’s decision to stay based in the area, Zach Halmstad and JAMF Software, and Volume One’s own editor/publisher Nick Meyer. In describing the city’s recent Lismore and Oxbow hotel developments, the article states, “Therein lies the new paradigm for towns in turnaround mode. Instead of chasing smokestacks, why not build a place where young people want to live and work?”
"I think [Time] readers will see how it’s not just bigger places like Portland and Denver and Brooklyn that can revitalize themselves for a post-industrial world, but smaller towns like Eau Claire, too. For Eau Claire, it was a matter of understanding its own strengths and then making some bold investments." – Steve Koepp, former deputy managing editor of Time Magazine
The piece was written by Steve Koepp, who spent 35 years at Time Inc. – much of it as the deputy managing editor for Time Magazine. He was also the executive editor of Fortune for five years (he’s currently a freelance journalist). And as it so happens, Koepp is a native of Pewaukee, Wis., and he attended UW-Eau Claire from 1974–78. While at Time, Koepp kept contact with the university, sponsoring a journalism fellowship which brings students to New York to spent a few weeks at the magazine.
On a trip to Eau Claire in May to award a fellowship, Koepp was impressed by what he saw – this is not the Eau Claire the remembers. The experience inspired him to produce the piece for Time. As a little behind-the-scenes extra to the article, we interviewed Koepp on how the piece came about.
What did you see in the area that made it so compelling?
I hadn’t been to Eau Claire in about a decade, but I’ve maintained contact with UWEC. I met with UWEC chancellor Jim Schmidt in NYC and the Eau Claire that he described, with great enthusiasm, was not the Eau Claire that I remembered. The Jazz Fest, the Confluence Project, JAMF Software, boutique hotels, and loft apartments. My curiosity was kindled. When I visited campus in May to award a fellowship, I had a chance to witness it all firsthand. I stayed at the Lismore Hotel during its first few days of operation, visited Phoenix Park (where a wedding was taking place), checked out the site of the Confluence Project.
It was still a little chilly, but I imagined what it would be like with concerts along the river and tubers floating along. These were the sights and sounds of a place coming alive. Another thing that struck me, in conversations with folks in Eau Claire, was the mixture of enthusiasm and a sense that they couldn’t quite believe that these things were happening after many decades of Eau Claire being in the doldrums.
What about Eau Claire do you feel is important for "outsiders" to understand?
That the beautiful scenery and the cultural vitality flow together, kind of like the rivers and maybe even because of them. And that alongside the natural beauty is a sophistication that’s deeply rooted, notably in the tradition of music education that extends from the high schools through the university. What’s noteworthy now is that these attributes are coming together in experiences that outsiders can appreciate. The rivers that were once dirty, industrial infrastructure are now supplying inspiration and recreation.
How do you hope Time readers will react to the piece?
I hope some readers, especially those from outside the region, will be inspired to visit, have a wonderful experience, and help continue its growth and development. Clearly, there is still work to be done.
On a broader scale, I think readers will see how it’s not just bigger places like Portland and Denver and Brooklyn that can revitalize themselves for a post-industrial world, but smaller towns like Eau Claire, too. For Eau Claire, it was a matter of understanding its own strengths and then making some bold investments.
Wednesday, Jun. 29th, 2016
Check out the official press release on this year's Eaux Claires day-to-day lineup...
EAUX CLAIRES MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL
ANNOUNCES ITS DAY-BY-DAY LINEUP
SINGLE-DAY PASSES GO ON SALE
JUNE 30, 2016 AT 10AM CST
June 29, 2016 – Eau Claire, WI – Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival announces its day-by-day lineup and makes Single-Day passes available for purchase. The festival that stole hearts in 2015 returns this August 12th & 13th with a 55-act lineup that is once again hand-selected by Eau Claire native and Bon Iver front man Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National. Single-Day passes go on sale tomorrow, June 30th at 10am CST at www.eauxclaires.com. 2016 Eaux Claires artist images, festival highlight images and the 2016 admat can be accessed here.
Bringing an astounding range of artistic talent to the fields of the Chippewa Valley, Eaux Claires promises festival-goers a one-of-a-kind, immersive experience and delivers an exciting amount of new music.
Grammy award-winning band Bon Iver will debut a set of new music in its Friday night performance. Joining them on the Friday bill are James Blake, Vince Staples, Phosphorescent, yMusic with The Staves, Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers performing Hornsby’s legendary album, “The Way It Is,” and many more.
Saturday’s lineup will include the first and only scheduled performance of Day Of The Dead featuring an all-star cast of 11 different vocalists and musicians from the new Grateful Dead celebration album curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner. There will also be performances by Erykah Badu, Beach House, Lucius, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Mavis Staples.
Richard Reed Parry will perform new songs from his forthcoming debut album, “Quiet River of Dust,” and Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner will debut their new album, “At Swim,” out on August 19th. Also of note, there will be a collaborative performance by So Percussion and Shara Nova, and eighth blackbird with Bryce Dessner & Bonnie “Prince” Billy will perform unreleased murder ballads and fiddle tunes. ...
EAUX CLAIRES 2016 DAY-BY-DAY LINEUP
The day-by-day lineup for Eaux Claires is as follows. *Artists are subject to change. The performance schedule for each day will be announced at a later date.
Friday, August 12
Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers performing “The Way It Is”
Cornelius performing "Fantasma"
eighth blackbird with Bryce Dessner and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Kill The Vultures
Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner
My Brightest Diamond
Richard Reed Parry/ Quiet River of Dust
Taggart & Rosewood
The Staves and yMusic
Saturday, August 13
Buke and Gase
Day Of The Dead
eighth blackbird with Bryce Dessner and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Francis and The Lights
Har Mar Superstar
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Phil Cook's "Southland Revue"
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
TICKETS: Single-Day General Admission Passes are on sale for $90 (plus service fees) beginning tomorrow, June 30 at 10am CST. A limited number of Two-Day General Admission Passes are still available for $169. All tickets are available for purchase at www.eauxclaires.com. All Two-Day Enhanced Chippewa Passes are Sold Out.
CAMPING: Camping will once again be available at the recently expanded Whispering Pines & Fields Campgrounds. Passes are sold separately from all Admission Tickets and are available for purchase at www.eauxclaires.com. Camping sites sell for $165; $300 for oversized vehicles. Upon purchase, campers will also have the option to add tents, sleeping bags and camping chairs to their purchase. Complimentary shuttles to and from the festival grounds and downtown Eau Claire (Thursday night) will be available.
LODGING: Eaux Claires is once again working with University of Wisconsin Eau Claire to make hundreds of its dorm rooms available for festival attendees to reserve. Dorm rooms are available at reasonable rates starting at $84 and include complimentary shuttle transportation to and from the festival grounds. For more information and to reserve, visit www.eauxclaires.com. To learn more about area hotel options, Visit Eau Claire features several recommendations on its website here.
SOCIAL MEDIA: For more details and up to date information about Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, please follow the festival on social media: Twitter, @EauxClairesWi, Instagram @EauxClairesWi, and Facebook: /EauxClairesWi; #eauxclairesd
Tuesday, Jun. 28th, 2016
A hotel – or even two of them – and convention space should be part of a proposed event center development on Menomonie Street, partners in the project said Tuesday. Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency, announced that it will be working with the Blugold Real Estate Foundation to promote the construction of the event center on 25 acres along Menomonie Street.
While plans for the event center – which would combine a new university arena, convention center space, and other elements – have been on the drawing board for two years, the idea took on added urgency when it was announced this month that the Plaza Hotel would close at the end of the year. The Plaza – which has 233 guest rooms and 28,000 square feet of meeting space – is the largest convention facility in Eau Claire, but it will be demolished to make way for a new Marshfield Clinic hospital.
“Never was there a question for the need for a competitive convention facility,” said Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire, “but instead the question always came down to where it would be located and how it would be paid for.”
“Based on the announcement of about 10 days ago, the need is greater today than ever before in the history of our city,” Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire, said of the dearth of convention space in the Chippewa Valley. That need has been identified by numerous studies over the years, and it’s been chronicled by Visit Eau Claire, which in a five-year period counted 157 events with an economic impact of more than $40 million that were too large for Eau Claire to accommodate. “Never was there a question for the need for a competitive convention facility,” John said, “but instead the question always came down to where it would be located and how it would be paid for.”
The location question was answered, in part, in 2014 when UWEC alums John and Carolyn Sonnentag, and their business, County Materials Corp., made a donation of money and land worth $10 million to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, which is affiliated with the Blugold Real Estate Foundation. The 25 acres lie between Menomonie Street and the Chippewa River, near both Carson Park and Clairemont Avenue. Plans call for the construction of the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, which would include a 130,000-square-foot major event center with seating for 4,500-5,000 people (with a standing-room-only capacity of 6,000); a wellness, aquatics, and recreation facility that would be shared by UWEC and the Eau Claire YMCA, with Mayo Clinic Health System partnering with them for programming; as well as plenty of parking and land suitable for private development.
And that private development space is ideal for a hotel, partners say. “The (hotel) discussion was a natural evolution once the announcement was made about the Plaza Hotel,” said Kimera Way, executive director of the Blugold Real Estate Foundation and the UWEC Foundation. In fact, she said, the idea of a future hotel had always been in the mix. A conceptual drawing by Ayres Associates and RDG Planning & Design shows a hotel on the far western corner of the property, between the Chippewa River, a bike trail, and the event center itself.
John said Visit Eau Claire is working with 13 groups that had planned conventions at the Plaza in 2017 and 2018 and will be displaced by its demolition. The loss of the Plaza only exacerbates Eau Claire’s lack of facilities. “Anecdotally, people are bummed that they can’t hold their events here,” John said of convention organizers, who often seek out Eau Claire as a potential host city for their events.
John said the Sonnentag Complex site is well-suited for a pair of hotels, one with about 250 rooms, banquet space, kitchen facilities, and breakout rooms, all attached to the event center; and a second hotel with 100-150 rooms and more limited services.
While UWEC is not directly involved in this project – the property is owned by the Blugold Real Estate Foundation, a separate nonprofit entity – the university will use and benefit from whatever is built on the site. At a press conference announcing the partnership held on part of the donated property, Chancellor James Schmidt lauded other collaborative community efforts – including the revitalization of downtown Eau Claire and the Confluence Project – and said the Sonnentag Complex could lead to similar success. “Look down this street,” Schmidt said, gesturing toward the now-vacant buildings to the west. “What will this area look like in 15 years?”
There’s still a long way to go on the project, Way noted. To begin with, funding must be secured to demolish the buildings and a formal site plan must be developed. The project partners – including Blugold Real Estate, the Eau Claire YMCA, Mayo Clinic Health System, and the university – are in ongoing discussions about the effort. Still, the initiative with Visit Eau Claire announced Tuesday will put some added weight behind the community’s longstanding desire for a convention center.
If saving money floats your boat, Fairfax Pool’s next Dollar Swim Day should be smooth sailing. Anyone with a floatation device can swim for $1 from 11:30am to 7pm on Thursday, June 30, at 4200 Fairfax St.
Future Dollar Swim Days include:
July 14: July is Parks and Recreation Month, wear an Eau Claire Parks and Recreation T-shirt.
July 28: Feed Our Community, donate a non-perishable food item.
Aug. 11: Back To School, donate a school supply.
Aug. 25: NFL Kick-off, wear your favorite NFL apparel.
For more information, contact Eau Claire Parks and Recreation at 715-839-1680.
Eau Claire’s public librarians are ready to break a sweat to bring books to unexpected places. Their tool is a brand-new BookBike, a pedal-powered branch library that you’ll begin seeing this summer at events such as the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market and the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series, both in Phoenix Park.
“We’re hoping that people think about the library in a different way.”– Pamela Westby, L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library director, on the library’s new BookBike
Think of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s BookBike as an eco-friendly version of an old-fashioned bookmobile. In addition to checking out books with the help of a laptop-toting librarian, the BookBike will allow patrons to learn how to download digital materials (the library can give you access to e-books and music, among other things), get library cards, and more. Similar bike-toting trailers are increasingly popular across the country, popping up in cities such as Denver, Seattle, and Madison, where the program goes by the punny name “Spoke-n-words.”
Inside the BookBike you’ll find about 100 volumes, including popular adult fiction by the likes of James Patterson, Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin; lots of cookbooks; and plenty of children’s lit, including pictures books and books for beginning readers. The brightly colored trailer folds out in the front and back to display books, which patrons can browse under the shade of an umbrella. When it’s time to return to the library, everything folds up and the trailer attaches easily to the back of a bicycle.
“We’re hoping that people think about the library in a different way,” explained Library Director Pamela Westby at a June 22 unveiling event for the BookBike. “There’s an old way of thinking about libraries as dusty warehouses of books.” The BookBike can help dispel this stereotype by popping up and bringing books directly to the public, she said.
“Larger cities are doing more to have a presences where the traffic is,” Westby continued. In some cities, this means putting branch libraries in strip malls; in Eau Claire, it means toting books to busy Phoenix Park (and, in the near future, maybe a block party or other event in your neighborhood).
The BookBike was made by Street Smart Trailers of Boston, which specializes in producing custom bike trailers. Draft Design House of Eau Claire designed a colorful exterior for the trailer, which is covered in a whimsical map of downtown Eau Claire with icons such as pencils, carrots, and kubb blocks representing various landmarks.
Even when loaded with 100 or more books, the BookBike is relatively easy to pull, says Shelly Collins-Fuerbringer, the library’s youth services manager, who compared it to a child-toting Burley bike trailer. Collins-Fuerbringer is one of eight library staff members who – clad in aqua-colored T-shirts – will be pedaling the BookBike around town in the coming months.
The entire BookBike effort – including the trailer, two bicycles to pull it, accessories, and design work – was paid for with $10,000 from the library’s endowment, which is funded with donations. The trailer is stocked with high-demand books purchased through the library’s regular collections budget.
If you want to catch up with the BookBike, you can either hit the bike trail yourself or check out the schedule online at ecpubliclibrary.info/bookbike.
Monday, Jun. 27th, 2016
There wasn’t a single instance of this most infamous of crimes in Eau Claire last year, according to a just-published Eau Claire Police Department report. That big statistical goose egg is one of the reasons Eau Claire consistently ranks as one of the safest cities in the nation. (Let’s keep it that way!)
2. Robbery With "Other Dangerous Weapon"
Thankfully, robbery is pretty rare here, with just 18 cases reported last year. Nine were at gunpoint, two were at knifepoint, and seven were classified as “strong arm (hands, fists, feet)” – which raises the curious concept of being held up at footpoint. Meanwhile, there were zero robberies in the “other dangerous weapon” category, meaning the streets evidently are free of assailants armed with brass knuckles, bo staffs, or nunchakus.
3. Purse Snatching
Apparently, other than in movies involving foot chases through crowded street markets, purse snatching is pretty rare. In fact, exactly zero of them were reported between 2010 and 2015, according to the ECPD. By comparison, there were 10 pocket-pickings in 2015. Gentlemen, that’s an argument for wearing a man purse if we ever saw one. (Sadly, there will be at least one purse-snatching in the report for 2016; a man was just convicted of grabbing a woman’s purse at a restaurant in February.
4. Arson of Mobile Property
Having your house lit on fire is a bummer, and so is having your stuff set ablaze. Fortunately, both are uncommon in Eau Claire. Only one arson of a structure was reported last year, and there were zero arson cases involving mobile property, so you probably don’t need to carry that fire extinguisher on your bike anymore.
Everyday paranoia about terrorism aside, bombings just don’t happen here. According to police, there were no bomb explosions, no bombs found, and no other bomb-related cases. In fact, there were only three bomb threats reported, which means that most of Eau Claire’s malcontents are apparently smart enough not to pull hoaxes that could get them in trouble with the feds.
Thursday, Jun. 23rd, 2016
The building that once housed Mike’s Smokehouse will become a new eatery this fall. The Public House Kitchen and Catering is the latest venture by Jack Schulte, who is currently general manager at Yankee Jack’s at Princeton Valley Golf Course and previously spent nearly 20 years at Sweetwaters. Schulte says remodeling will begin in July at 2235 N. Clairemont Ave., which was home to Mike’s from 1997 until the barbecue joint closed in early 2014. The Public House will be “kind of a Panera on steroids,” with homemade soups, salads, and unique sandwiches, as well as blue-plate specials, Schulte says. The establishment will also have eight tap beers, including local brews from the likes of Lucette, Sand Creek, and the Brewing Projekt. In addition, the restaurant will offer scones, muffins, and gourmet coffee starting at 7am each day and will serve Sunday brunch. Schulte plans to operate his catering business out of the restaurant’s expansive kitchen as well. You can expect drastic remodeling inside and out before The Public House opens to the public in October.