Tuesday, Sep. 5th, 2017
While other buildings – including corporate high-rises, mixed-use apartment complexes, and even a parking ramp – have risen around it in the past decade, the plot of ground in downtown Eau Claire known as Lot 7 has remained undeveloped other than an ordinary blacktopped parking lot.
The lack of construction on the lot isn’t for lack of trying – in the recent past, three different developers have pitched ideas about transforming the property to the city’s Redevelopment Authority. None of the ideas have gained approval – largely for financial reasons – but now the RDA is taking a different approach: In part, it’s thinking smaller. The RDA hired SDS Architects of Eau Claire to develop new conceptual plans for the property, which show multiple buildings on the site.
“We were looking to make an area a hair less dense … than other blocks,” said Mike Schatz, city economic development administrator. “We were looking at things we maybe hadn’t done before.”
Specifically, the conceptual plans feature a four-story residential/commercial structure on the north end of the block, facing Wisconsin Avenue (i.e., across the street from The Livery). On the other side of the block, however, are a half-dozen two-story structures – potentially providing commercial or retail space at street level and living space on their top floors. These smaller buildings, which would face Galloway Street and the side of the new parking ramp to the south, may appeal to entrepreneurs who want to live upstairs from their businesses.
“The thought there is to try and offer a new construction site for a small business to take advantage of building ownership rather than to only have an option to rent,” said Mike Schatz, Executive Director of the RDA. Now that the conception images are out there – they were discussed at a RDA meeting in mid-August – Schatz hopes to get feedback from small businesses and developers alike.
The plans created by SDS contain other eye-catching elements as well. In between the south-facing smaller buildings and the larger structure to the north would be a plaza that could offer a play area, green space, shade structures, a small dog park, or other features.
Like the earlier plans for Lot 7, however, this one could face challenges. Schatz notes that construction costs are on the rise, which could make the price tag of new structures too high for small-business owners. However, other financial factors are more favorable. The RDA rejected earlier proposals for the site because they would have required funding from the special tax increment financing (TIF) district that encompasses part of the neighborhood. (In TIF districts, property taxes generated by new developments are used to offset the cost of the initial projects.) Previously, officials had worried that using too much TIF financing would have made it harder for the district to succeed. However, the passage of a school district referendum in November changed the math: An increase in the amount of taxes collected because of the referendum will make it easier for the TIF to break even.
Schatz said he’s optimistic the latest plans could finally spark viable development on Lot 7. “To me, keeping the momentum going is very important,” he said. “I’ve been disappointed that it’s slowed down.”
Conceptual Drawings of Lot 7 Development
Click the images below for a closer look ...
Monday, Sep. 4th, 2017
A green Victorian home on the bike trail in downtown Eau Claire will become a bed and breakfast (well, without the breakfast) thanks to zoning approval from the city Plan Commission. Located at 107 Elizabeth St., the 5,264-square-foot multi-family home has three apartments. Two will remain as rentals, while the third and largest will be available for six people on weekends via Airbnb.com. The home has three large bedrooms with queen-sized double beds and two-and-a-half baths. Guests will have free rein to the home, which includes three parlors, a kitchen, a dining room, and a spacious family room in the attic. The view of the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers from its huge windows is unsurpassed. Originally built in 1887 at 904 First Ave., the home’s address was switched to Elizabeth Street when the bike trail was created. While not a designated historic property, it has been selected as one of seven properties featured in this fall’s Historic Preservation Foundation Home Tour from 10am-4pm Saturday, Sept. 23. Owners John and Sharyn Moss love renovating homes together. “Fixing up dilapidated buildings can be so rewarding,” Sharyn shared. “The finished project always brings us joy. … This house was worth saving. She was built strong and stable and just needed some love to bring her back to life.”
Thursday, Aug. 31st, 2017
The Informalist – a farm-to-table eatery in downtown Eau Claire’s Lismore Hotel – decided to show its customers exactly what “farm-to-table” means with a fun video showing off some of the people and places that make it happen.
Between gorgeous footage of local farmland and downtown Eau Claire, you meet some of the key players that make a restaurant like The Informalist hum. You hear from the owner (Zach Halmstad) and the front of house manager (Amy O’Connor), and you get to see the cooks and staff at work. But one of the best interviews features Executive Chef Amy Huo talking about the ethical and sustainable role the restaurant plays in our community. Seeing the actual chef behind the food you eat and hearing her culinary philosophy is ... well, it's pretty cool. It keeps us connected to our meals and the place we call home.
Like many local businesses, The Informalist is tied directly to the health, wellbeing, and development of downtown Eau Claire – its buildings and its people – so it’s great to see how much care they take in building that relationship.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Eau Claire's Oakwood Mall announced that popular burger and fries restaurant chain Five Guys would be opening a store in the mall. No word on how soon, but Betsy Maher, the general manager with General Growth Property (which owns the mall), told News 18 construction of the new place should start in early September.
Wednesday, Aug. 30th, 2017
Part of a series on the best record store in each state, music blog Vinyl Me, Please has a fantastic column on Revival Records, calling it the best in Wisconsin. Check it out:
... Revival began like a lot of records stores: with a genuine love of music and what it could offer for the people who could get their hands on it. While there’s always been a supportive creative community in Eau Claire, many more residents—and eventually people from all over—began to recognize it, support it and participate in it, giving creative projects and places like Revival Records resources to develop—and a lot of us got the humble pleasure of growing along with it. ...
Friday, Aug. 25th, 2017
CityLab is a big deal. An offshoot of The Atlantic – yes, that Atlantic – the online publication is "committed to telling the story of the world’s cities: how they work, the challenges they face, and the solutions they need." They cover the ins and outs and innovations of community development across the globe. Their case studies serve as inspiration for city planners and stakeholders, sparking creative designs and programs in city development. So when CityLab writes about Eau Claire, as they did today, it means there's something interesting going on here.
Their profile joins the steady stream of national media covering our city. But before you read their story, a word on the title: "How Bon Iver Saved Eau Claire." Yes. It's a bit of a groaner. And while the importance and impact of a certain earnest local musician (and his band) (and his music festival) should never be underestimated, any local who's been paying attention can tell you there's a lot more at play here. But hey, we understand editors need catchy titles, so we'll give it a pass.
Thankfully, that's not what the article's about.
City Lab traces the city's industrial and economic drivers through a number of ups and downs, landing at our current situation, riding the momentum of recent downtown development. They touch on the roles played by our city planners, RCU, Phoenix Park, JAMF, Banbury Place, UW-Eau Claire, and of course, the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. They also spoke with local individuals who moved here to start new businesses.
None of these recent articles really have the space to dig deep into the many, many factors (and people) propelling Eau Claire's recent progress, but as we've said before, we'll take all the attention we can get – as long as no one sees it as a finish line.
Grabbing CityLab's attention is important, but there's plenty more work to be done.
Tuesday, Aug. 22nd, 2017
HUNGRY YET? Chippewa Valley Restaurant Week is coming! For ten days in September (15–24), dozens of local restaurants will join together for a huge celebration of local eats. You'll get access to special menus, deals, and contests – and invites to unique food-themed events raising money for community causes. A few details:
➜ Check out ChippewaValleyRestaurantWeek.com
➜ Attend the First Taste Culinary Crawl kickoff event (and Feed My People Food Bank benefit) on September 14
➜ See the restaurants and deals
➜ Win a trip to Mexico (and other contests)
➜ Stay tuned on Facebook and Instagram
Chippewa Valley Restaurant Week is co-presented by Volume One and the Chippewa Valley Technical College's Culinary Management Program.
Tuesday, Aug. 15th, 2017
Thrillist Calls Eau Claire One Of "America's Best Small Cities to Move to Before They Get Too Popular"
Here we go again! Online publication Thrillist – which has written positively about Eau Claire in at least two other articles – has included Eau Claire on a list of "America's Best Small Cities to Move to Before They Get Too Popular." I guess this is the natural evolution of this kind of coverage.
It's not a huge write up, and it's a pretty superficial look at the city, but it's the latest in a long list of national and state publications turning a spotlight on Eau Claire for a number of reasons – as both a travel destination and a place to live. Some stories are more in-depth than others (and some are downright clickbaity) but you can't deny that we've been getting a lot of attention lately.
If you're wondering exactly what the means to us as locals – and if you should care – check out an editorial written by Volume One Editor/Publisher Nick Meyer: Eau Claire Is Making National Headlines. Here's What That Means and Why You Should Care.
In the meantime, here's what Thrillist has to say …
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Beer, trails, and a world-class music festival at your doorstep
If you want to make friends in this life -- real friends, the sort you’ll hang with for the rest of your days -- then spend a few winters two hours from Minneapolis. The upper Midwestern folks here have a knack for making the most of that dreary, dark season. You’ll still see bikes (with snow tires) commuting in negative temperatures, which at first may seem insane but eventually... you kind of get it. Duck out of the snow and into a warm, toasty bar -- Water Street is saturated with them -- for a pint of Lazy Monk IPA or New Glarus Spotted Cow. Eat some cheese curds, play a board game or 200, and let the winter roll on by, as it always manages to do.
Once spring rolls around, everyone starts peeling the sleeves off their pale-ass torsos and preparing to smash their way into a temperate, gorgeous summer together. The Chippewa River runs through this city, with loads of trails, parks, even beaches, and a shiny waterfront downtown is rolling in locally owned shops and locally sourced eats. June brings about the Eaux Claires music festival, started in 2015 by Wisconsin’s own Justin Vernon, where local artists share a bill with such little-known acts as Vernon's Bon Iver, Wilco, and Paul Simon. -- Kylie Maxcy
Wednesday, Aug. 9th, 2017
Just yesterday The Oxbow Hotel – the new downtown boutique hotel that completely transformed the block where the troubled Green Tree Inn was just a few years ago – posted a new video showing a couple enjoying what downtown Eau Claire has to offer. But the film looks like more than just a commercial for the hotel – it's a love letter to Eau Claire and where it’s heading right now.
The hotel writes: "Downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin is changing. Music, art, food, drinks, trails, rivers, and events are shifting the culture. As a newly relaunched boutique property, The Oxbow Hotel sits at the intersection of our community's past, present, and future. Join us, either overnight or at The Lakely, and experience the new direction."
Sure, the video is meant to entice people into visiting the hotel or their farm-to-table restaurant, The Lakely – but when it makes the town look this good, we all win. It shows the couple exploring town on bikes and kayaks, eating and drinking with friends, listening to records, and taking in that big Shouting Matches concert right on the street before this summer's Eaux Claires fest.
And the localness doesn't stop there. The narration for the video is an excerpt from the Chippewa Valley-based author Nickolas Butler's New York Times best-selling novel "Shotgun Lovesongs." It's read by James Diers, the lead musician behind Halloween Alaska and Love-cars, two Minneapolis-based bands that have strong ties to the Eau Claire scene. And of course the music is by Eau Claire band The Shouting Matches, whose members appear in the video as well.
Along with the Oxbow ownership team, the video was created in large part by Anthony Casonova, a former local who grew up in Eau Claire but is now based in Chicago. Casonova and two friends came up for a couple weekends to shoot the video thanks to support from their employer, Guy Bauer Productions.
Tuesday, Aug. 8th, 2017
It’s summer and the great state of Wisconsin boasts a plethora of roadside attractions, which means it’s time to explore. Here’s a list of the six quirky attractions within a 100-mile radius of Eau Claire. Feel free to suggest more in the comments!
1. World’s Largest Talking Cow, Neillsville
Only in the Dairy State would you find the World’s Largest Talking Cow. Seven times larger than an average cow, Chatty Belle has something more valuable than size: her voice. Although it’s been reported that she’s lost her voice, Chatty Belle is still a Holstein to see. Find Chatty on Facebook.
2. Rock in the House, Fountain City
The 55-ton boulder that plowed its way through a house may have chased a married couple out of their home, but it has its perks. The Rock in the House has been granted a historical preservation permit, allowing visitors to walk through the house, exploring and reading about other local disasters. Who knew a 55-ton boulder could be such an object of special character. Learn more.
3. F.A.S.T. Fiberglass Mold Graveyard, Sparta
Nothing’s stranger than a bunch of giant, abandoned fiberglass objects ... unless you make an attraction out of it. FAST Corporation has kept molds from almost every job they’ve ever done, leaving them littered in a field behind the workshop. Visit and stroll among the eerie collection of weathered fiberglass objets, animals, and ... other things. Learn more.
4. Forest of Chainsaw Totem Poles, Medford
With over 400 chainsaws lodged in more than 20 telephone poles, you might think Leatherface is nearby. Instead, a roadside firewood business sits, welcoming visitors to view their lumberjack art – now all you need is a beard and a flannel and you’ll feel right at home at the Forest of Chainsaw Totem Poles. Learn more.
5. Jurustic Park, Marshfield
Home to several extinct, iron-made creatures that inhabited McMillan Marsh, Jurustic Park is a beastie filled sculpture garden. Explore the park and view the sculptures all made from found antique objects. Unlike Jurassic Park, these creatures aren’t harmful. They also have a Hobbit House. Learn more.
6. World’s Largest Six-Pack, La Crosse
You might call the big six-pack in La Crosse one of the granddaddies of Wiscosnin roadside attractions. There’s a sign in front stating the World’s Largest Six-Pack would fill 7 million twelve-ounce cans, which would provide one person a six-pack a day for approximately 3,351 years. That seems like a lot ... even for a Wisconsinite. Learn more.