Friday, Oct. 6th, 2017
The City of Eau Claire’s latest plan to replace its antiquated downtown bus transfer center with a mixed-used building hinges on a hard-to-get federal grant, but city officials are hopeful about their chances of winning the funds.
Time is tight to apply for the money: The feds must receive the city’s application for a $5 million TIGER grant by Oct. 16, which explains why plans are being fast-tracked.
Time is tight to apply for the money: The feds must receive the city’s application for a $5 million TIGER grant by Oct. 16, which explains why plans are being fast-tracked. On Thursday, Oct. 5, the city’s Transit Commission unanimously backed seeking the grant, and the City Council will consider a similar vote at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
The TIGER program (in case you were curious, that stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) offers $500 million for building transportation infrastructure in communities nationwide. Consequently, competition for the grants is tough, and only 6 percent of applicants get a cut of the TIGER cash, explained Tom Wagener, manager of Eau Claire Transit. Nonetheless, Wagener said, “We’re optimistic that we have a project that meets the criteria very well.”
The city’s current proposal, which was developed in recent months, would replace the current bus transfer center with a new building on the same site, the 400 block of South Farwell Street. However, while the present transfer center is little more than a concrete shack built as a temporary structure in 1985, the new facility would be a $21.43 million, seven-story structure. Beyond the hoped-for $5 million federal grant and a $1.25 million match from the city (some of which would cover the cost of four new city buses), the rest of the project’s cost would be paid for by a private developer, Gorman and Co. of Oregon, Wisconsin.
Last year, Gorman was the only developer to respond to the city’s request for proposals to create a mixed-use building that would include a new transfer center. Originally, the city had narrowed its focus to a city-owned parking lot on Farwell Street next to the historic Schlegelmilch House. However, Wagener explained, that site had accessibility problems: Bus riders coming from the downtown area would have to cross busy Farwell Street to get to the transfer center.
“We were trying to come up with a design we thought would work for everybody, and because it was on the opposite side of Farwell Street, we couldn’t get around that issue,” Wagener explained. Over the summer, the city shifted its focus back to the current site.
While the city’s ideas are still preliminary, Wagner said they call for a structure with a ground-floor transfer center above approximately 71 underground parking stalls. (Wagner pointed out this is more parking spots than are provided in the small lot that is now adjacent to the transfer center.) The ground floor might also include offices for the city’s transit division as well as possible commercial space, such as a coffee shop. Above that would be two-story parking ramp, topped by as many as four stories of apartments. Other than the transfer center and the underground parking, which would be owned by the city, the bulk of the facility would be privately owned and operated.
In a best-case scenario, if the city is awarded the grant (a decision is expected by mid-winter), design work could occur early next year and construction could begin as early as late 2018, Wagener said. If the city doesn’t receive the grant, however, the plans will again be put on hold until the next federal grant cycle. Wagener noted that the City of Milwaukee took this approach, and it finally paid off: After applying for the grant annually since 2009, Milwaukee finally won it in 2015.
Despite not having dropped much new music under his own name, S. Carey is still having quite the year. He appeared on a protest compilation alongside some the biggest names in indie rock, collaborated on a cool track on the latest Teen Daze album, and had a brilliant song called “Brassy Sun” appear on the second season of the Netflix show Flaked. But his latest collaboration might be his biggest yet.
Thursday on The Hollywood Reporter, country music superstar Dierks Bentley premiered the video for a new song, “Hold The Light,” originally written by arey, composer Joe Trapanese, and Jon Randall. “Hold The Light" is set to appear in the forthcoming film Only The Brave – starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, and Miles Teller – and apparently it’s already generating some Oscar buzz in the “Best Original Song” category, which is pretty cool.
The movie tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a crew of Arizona firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect their town from an unimaginable wildfire."The song is special to me because I really connected with the story and tried to put myself in their shoes a little bit, coming from not being wildfire fighters but by being part of their family or something like that,” Carey told The Hollywood Reporter Carey's brother-in-law is a firefighter.
Bentley – who headlined Country Jam this past summer – reworked the song with Carey for the film’s final score and he seemed to enjoy the process. "I’m really happy with the way it turned out. It’s probably one of my favorite recording deals that I’ve had to be a part of, so I’m pretty excited,” Bentley said.
Only the Brave will hit theaters Oct. 20. Watch the video for "Hold the Light” ...
Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, 2017
For a split second, the pedestrian bridge in Phoenix Park went dark, and a handful of people crossing it shouted in confusion. In a dazzling moment, their dismay turned to wonder as the bridge was bathed in gradually shifting color – from emerald to sky blue to indigo and beyond – as 172 computer-controlled LED fixtures turned the 526-foot bridge across the Chippewa River into a massive light sculpture. It was after 8pm on a Wednesday evening in late September, but there were still a handful of passersby in the park, and many of them paused to admire and snap cellphone pictures of the colorful display orchestrated by lighting designer Jason Jon Anderson with the help of a laptop computer.
“This is another great example of campus, community, and private dollars working together to do something great.” – Jason Jon Anderson, lighting designer, on the Phoenix Park bridge lighting
It was only a small taste of the capabilities of the new lights, which were installed on the converted railroad bridge over the summer as part of a $400,000 donor-funded effort. The project – officially known as The River Lights at Phoenix Park – will be officially unveiled at 7pm Thursday, Oct. 12, with a public performance that will show some (but not all) of the array’s capabilities. After that, the lights will be active each day between half an hour after sunset and 11pm. They’ll turn back on at 5am until sunrise for an early-morning display.
“If you think of this as a light sculpture, the light can move in various ways,” explained Anderson, who among other things services as production director for the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival and production manager for Bon Iver. Colors can ripple from one end of the bridge to the other; it can loop around the bridge; it can pulse in time to music. Each fixture includes red, blue, green, and amber lights, and can be programmed to create a mind-boggling 252 million color options. Essentially, the limits of what can be done with this light sculpture are the limits of an artistic programmer’s imagination.
And the emphasis here is on artistry. This is not a gaudy, casino-style display. The light is directed at the structure of the bridge itself, bringing out the character of the century-old steel beams and the huge concrete piers that hold it up. The light dances on the rippling water below, drawing attention to its ever-changing character. Even during a simple demonstration of the lights’ capabilities, the effect is mesmerizing.
The project is a joint effort by the Rotary Club of Eau Claire, Downtown Eau Claire Inc., UW-Eau Claire, and the City of Eau Claire, as well as hundreds of donors large and small. “This is another great example of campus, community, and private dollars working together to do something great,” Anderson noted. Fundraising is ongoing to cover the final $60,000 of the project’s cost. Contractors from B&B Electric worked over the summer to install the lights, leading to frequent closure of the footbridge. Now that the work is complete, the bridge is again fully open.
“I was exceptionally nervous before we turned them on,” admitted Anderson, who is also assistant director of conferences and event production at UWEC. Because of the metal plates needed to attach the lights to the bridge’s beams, the fixtures are 8 to 9 inches from the bridge’s surface instead of the 6 inches originally planned. Thankfully, the change didn’t impact the quality of the light, he said.
Depending on where they are placed, the fixtures shine light horizontally, vertically, or at an angle along the steel beams. The project was designed to be “dark sky” friendly, meaning it minimizes wasteful light pollution. “There is no light on this project that physically goes into the sky,” Anderson explained.
Programming the lights isn’t a simple process: It takes about an hour of coding per minute of performance, and Anderson is the only one punching the keys for now. However, he’ll be teaching a theatrical lighting course at UWEC in the spring semester, instructing students how to use the software that controls the lights. Eventually, students will be running the show. In fact, after next year they’ll be able to look upriver from the now-under-construction Confluence Arts Center to see their imagination brought to life. While architectural lighting design is a growing field, it’s never been a specific academic discipline anywhere, Anderson said, which means that UWEC students will be getting a truly unique opportunity. Eventually, he envisions programmable lighting on the exterior of the Confluence Arts Center, in Haymarket Plaza, and on the proposed Haymarket bridge as well. He also hopes that if the city and its residents take a liking to the illuminated bridge they will consider installing similar lights on other bridges in Eau Claire.
Anderson expects the bridge to be synchronized with fireworks on Independence Day and New Year’s Eve. At other times, it could be illuminated in time to music or lit with particular colors or patterns on behalf of sponsors.
Whatever the display, Anderson advises the viewing public to look at the bridge from a variety of vantage points and distances. As with any work of art, this sculpture will give viewers a different impression based upon where they stand.
Ultimately, Anderson wants the community to take a shine to the lights, especially after not being able to bike or walk on the bridge for months. “All I hope is that people walk away and say the inconvenience was worth it,” he said.
If you want to learn more about the project or make a contribution, visit LightItUpEC.com.
Monday, Oct. 2nd, 2017
This week (Sunday–Wednesday) nearly 20 regional and national travel journalists and bloggers are spending three days together in and around Eau Claire on a specially coordinated series of tours through some of our community’s hotels, restaurants, breweries, attractions, retailers, trails, art studios, and more. The event is something the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and their partners have been organizing in different areas in the state for many years – but this is the first time they’ve chosen to bring this highly valuable meetup to our area. To make it all possible, they collaborated with our own local tourism agency Visit Eau Claire to create an ambitious itinerary showing off some of the city's latest developments as well as longtime favorites in our neck of the woods.
These journalists contribute to a variety of travel and lifestyle publications including USA Today, Better Homes and Gardens, Global Traveler, Chicago Tribune, Orbitz Travel, AAA Midwest Traveler, StyleBlueprint, Outdoor Families, and many more. The idea is to create authentic local experiences for these travel tastemakers so they head home inspired to include the Eau Claire area in future coverage of travel destinations, trends, and opportunities. As I’ve written about in recent weeks, the glowing press about the growth in our community continues to pour in – beyond anything we’ve seen in recent decades – and an event like this is likely to amplify that even further in the coming months.
I've been fortunate to spend some time speaking to the group on a couple of occasions during their visit. While my pride for the area was likely apparent, I also stressed that the people who live here every day know there is plenty of work yet to be done. And that’s part of what’s most exciting about our current situation – as small as we are, we’re still very much a place on the rise. Good things are happening all around, yes – but we also know where we fall short, and in many cases someone somewhere is already working on it. There’s still space for new ideas, new people, and new energy. There’s still time to be part of the story. As for what story these national journalists will eventually tell, we’ll have to wait and see. But in the meantime, let’s keep building. And may we never reach the finish line.
Friday, Sep. 29th, 2017
UPDATED: Friday, Sept. 29 - 4pm
Owner of Local Favorite Shanghai Bistro Wants to Reopen
According to Shanghai Bistro owner Henry Chan, "When Shanghai opened in 2004 sushi was not mainstream. Sushi was very new and exotic in Eau Claire. As Eau Claire's first sushi bar, we talked to a lot of people and suggested they try sushi. One of the most memorable comments we heard often was 'Sorry. We don't eat our bait.'"
His chefs would prepare a half pint of spicy tuna mix – one of the sushi world's most popular varieties – only to throw the whole thing away. But they kept at it, and eventually Shanghai Bistro (and its sister eatery in Hudson) would go through a whole pint in an hour. By the time the restaurant closed its doors in 2016, things had changed. Sushi had became a relatively common item at asian restaurants in the area and the restaurant had found a loyal customer base attracted to its American-Chinese menu and yes, its sushi. Yet Shanghai still closed. Chan had started other businesses outside of his native Chippewa Valley, and his mother, who'd been running the restaurant in his stead, was ready to retire.
Chan says that while nothing is set in stone, he'd like to reopen the restaurant around the first of the year, with a refresh of both the interior and the exterior.
Now that loyal customer base has reason to rejoice. After months of Chan's mother prodding him to find a way to reopen, Chan, who still owns Shanghai's building at 2930 Craig Road, returned to Eau Claire for a short visit in late September. He hadn't really seen the city in a few years, and driving around town, he was amazed at the recent changes – downtown’s development and a bunch of new, ambitious restaurants. He'd also been keeping tabs on the national attention Eau Claire has received over the past year and a half. All of this boiled down to a big decision: Shanghai Bistro will reopen its doors.
Chan says that while nothing is set in stone, he'd like to reopen the restaurant around the first of the year, with a refresh of both the interior and the exterior. As for the menu, Chan knows he needs to bring back the old favorites – the Chinese dishes and sushi rolls and appetizers that kept people coming back. But he'd also like to offer dishes new to the area. He's experimented with a modern fusion menu at Hudson's Shanghai, seeing what works and what falls flat, and he hopes to liven things up in Eau Claire with a rotating menu of more complex, seasonal edo-style sushi in addition to the standards.
Time will tell how every thing shakes out, but Chan believes the time is right to give Eau Claire – its people and their tastes – another try.
Friday, Sept. 29 - 8:45am
If Shanghai Bistro's Facebook page is to be believed, the beloved Eau Claire sushi and asian eatery at 2930 Craig Road (which closed last year) will reopen in 2018. From a post on Sept. 28:
When Shanghai opened in 2004 sushi was not mainstream. Sushi was very new and exotic in Eau Claire. As Eau Claire's first sushi bar we talked to [a lot] of people and suggested they try sushi. One of the most memorable comments we [heard] often was " sorry we don't eat our bait"! Fast forward a decade and sushi is now on a staple. Get ready for a new menu that will again bring new flavors to our little town.
And from their Facebook about page ...
This is the original Shanghai Bistro. Established June 4th 2004. Shanghai Bistro is Eau Claire's oldest family owned and operated full service restaurant specializing in American Chinese with sushi. We closed August 2016, but with much [fanfare] we have decided to re-open in 2018 with a new menu.
Se get ready to rejoice, Shanghai lovers.
Tuesday, Sep. 26th, 2017
Are you a fan of two-wheeled, self-propelled transportation? Do you have opinions on the best and safest ways to pedal around Eau Claire? If so, the City of Eau Claire wants to hear from you. The city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is in the process of updating its Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and as part of that effort city planners are revising a map of recommended bicycle routes around town. Take a gander at the proposed routes in this PDF map and then give your feedback to Pat Ivory, senior planner for the city, at email@example.com or by calling (715) 839-4914.
As part of updating the plan, the committee is also revising a list of 24 parts of town – from North Dewey Street to Jeffers Road – that have “unique issues relative to the pedestrian and bicycle environment” that the city should address. Bicyclists and pedestrians are also invited to peruse and comment on this list, which can also be found online. The city asks that you make your comments by Monday, Oct. 16. After that they’ll be shared with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Tuesday, Sep. 19th, 2017
Friday nights Sept. 22 – Oct. 20 • 6pm-9pm • @The Local Store and Volume One Gallery and Courtyard! • 15% OFF STOREWIDE • Every Week: local makers • local food trucks • fire pit • live music • hot cider & snack samples • pre-holiday savings
Volume One and The Local Store are excited to bring back the Night Market – an indoor/outdoor “maker market” and sale series on Friday nights, Sept. 22 – Oct. 20, from 6-9pm. Each night, we'll feature 4–6 different local makers – themselves and their products – in the Volume One Gallery. During the event, we'll also set up a fire pit in our courtyard area, invite local food trucks, host live acoustic music, and serve hot cider and snack samples. Simultaneously, all regular Local Store merchandise is 15% OFF during the Night Market!
See the full schedule of this year's makers, performers, and food trucks!
Fireball Run is a lot of things: a television show, a 2,000-mile cross-country road rally, a life-sized trivia game, an economic development and tourism promotion tool, and even a way to raise awareness for missing children. And this month, Fireball Run will be yet another feather in Eau Claire’s cap: The “Adventurally” series – which can be viewed on Amazon Prime – will kick off its 11th season in Eau Claire on Sept. 23.
The physical setting won’t be the only role the Chippewa Valley will play in the series: One of the show’s 40 teams will be from Eau Claire. Luke Hanson and Julie Thoney will compete as the Xcelerators, so named because the team is sponsored by Thoney’s employer, Xcel Energy.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for our community to have some more exposure, as far as all the great things that are happening here.” – Julie Thoney, competitor on Fireball Run, which will begin its 11th season in Eau Claire
Thoney, the community service manager at Xcel’s Eau Claire office, acknowledges that she originally declined when asked to take part in the series. “It was a little outside my comfort zone … I don’t want to eat bugs or sleep with snakes,” she said with a laugh. Fortunately, however, those kinds of challenges aren’t part of Fireball Run: In fact, the producers shy away from the term “reality show” when describing the program. They prefer to describe it as “factual entertainment,” because instead of navigating concocted scenarios, participants drive real-world highways and visit real-life sites that viewers can go see for themselves.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for our community to have some more exposure, as far as all the great things that are happening here,” Thoney said about how Eau Claire will benefit from appearing on Fireball Run. “I think it’s going to highlight some of our businesses and our downtown locations, and it will talk about all of the cultural activities we have here.”
The adventure will begin Saturday, Sept. 23, in Phoenix Park. From roughly 9am to 5pm, visitors will be able to mingle with the teams, check out their vehicles, and see the series being filmed up close. Between 7am and 9am the following day, the cars will line up on nearby Barstow Street, after which the green flag will be waved and the competitors will hit the road for their next destination: Rochester, Minnesota. Over the ensuing eight days, competitors will wind their way across the heartland, hitting Dubuque, Burlington, and Fort Dodge in Iowa and then Vermillion, Yankton, Pierre, and Rapid City in South Dakota. Along the way they’ll see the sights, have unscripted adventures, and distribute posters bearing the images of missing children.
Thoney and Hanson, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., have been learning what they can about the cities, gathering maps and gazetteers to avoid getting lost, and building a network of contacts who can help them in various cities. (Competitors sometimes go on scavenger hunt-style quests, so having access to local knowledge helps.)
“Each day we get a mission, and we have no idea what the mission is or where within the particular city it will send us,” Thoney said.
And, because this is a road rally, vehicles play a role, too, with each team providing its own wheels. As befits a vehicle sponsored by a power company, the Xcelerators will be driving a 2017 Ford Fusion Energi, a plug-in hybrid. Other teams will be traveling in everything from Deloreans to Porches to a 1969 Chevy C-10 panel truck. With its wide array of vehicles and competitors (who include local officials, former Miss Americas, and an original Power Rangers star), Fireball Run a bit of a spiritual successor to the 1981 film The Cannonball Run, albeit without Bert Reynolds, Farrah Faucet, or any of the speeding. (All the vehicles will be tracked via GPS, in part so producers can ensure they aren’t breaking traffic laws.)
While the program will be recorded this fall – and fans will be able to follow the action at fireballrun.com – the completed series won’t be ready to watch until next year. If you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’ll be able to view the series free on your TV, computer, or other digital device. If you aren’t, you can download individual episodes from Amazon for 99 cents each. (And if you can’t wait until next year to see a Chippewa Valley participant on Fireball Run, you don’t have to: The 10th season of the show, which was recorded in the fall of 2016, included an Eau Claire contestant, Elaine Coughlin.)
Whatever way viewers tune in for her team’s adventures, Thoney is looking forward to the opportunity to promote Eau Claire and to learn more about other communities. “Hopefully we can be good competitors and make the Chippewa Valley and our companies proud,” she said.
Learn more about Fireball Run and how you can watch it at fireballrun.com. To vote for the Eau Claire-based team, the Xcelerators, as the fan favorite, go to www.fireballrun.com/events/2017-big-country/teams/eau-claire-xcelerators.
Friday, Sep. 15th, 2017
We've officially launched Chippewa Valley Restaurant Week after last week's fantastic kickoff event in Eau Claire's Banbury Place (check out photos). Up above you can watch one of a number of spots on Restaurant Week from WEAU 13 News (who's also a sponsor of the event). You can watch more coverage here and here (warning: that second link has ice cream in it). And there's more to come.
Monday, Sep. 11th, 2017
The huge new arena/recreation/educational facility planned by UW-Eau Claire – officially dubbed the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex – is still a few years in the future, but you can gaze upon it in all its glory (at least virtually) thanks to some animations created by Ayres Associates. The complex is slated to be built on 23 acres donated by the Sonnentag family between Menomonie Street and the Chippewa River. Current plans call for a 5,000-seat major event center (meant as a replacement for Zorn Arena) that could accommodate basketball and hockey games as well as other sporting events, concerts, festivals, and conventions. In addition, the complex would include a recreation, wellness, and fitness facility shared by UWEC, the Eau Claire YMCA, and Mayo Clinic Health System; a mixed-use university building called the Big River Education Center; and possibly other developments, including hotels.
While the animations recently posted by Ayres Associates are preliminary – and therefore likely to differ from the final product – they offer a glimpse of where we could be cheering on the Blugolds in the coming decade. Watch ...