With downtown development finally taking shape after years of effort, removing a large facility from downtown and moving it to a suburban locale simply makes no sense. The area is disjointed enough from the commercial downtown district that another type of riverside development wouldn’t seem to fit. Do we really need another multi-story apartment building on the banks of the Chippewa or another row of shops, when storefronts sit empty on Barstow Street?
A jail has stood on the current site since the 1800s with no major problems. I’ve never feared having inmates located blocks from my apartment and I doubt many others have either. When talks of expansion began back in 2002, most – including me – just assumed the new jail would be built near the current site. I think our community leaders had always planned for the new jail at the current site. And, while I agree with the opposition that the cost figures of a remote site have likely been inflated, separating the jail/justice center from the sheriff’s and police department would add extra expenses in the long term. Plus, public facilities should be in the city center.
Eau Claire has done a great job of redeveloping the downtown. The Phoenix Park area has exceeded my expectations and Barstow Street no longer resembles a ghost town. So why move a facility that brings people to the heart of Eau Claire to a remote location? There is a reason Altoona is salivating at the idea of having the county jail and justice center relocated to their city. Plus, I’ve got to admit that I kind of like the site sketches of the new jail and justice center. It looks nice and civic.
So, get out and vote on Tuesday, April 6. And, no matter what I’ve just written, at this point I could really care less which way the vote goes. I just want a decision made. I just hope the county board and city council listen to the public and vote accordingly, because both sides are right about one point – this is a decision that is going to affect our community for generations to come and there is no one better to make the decision than the community itself. But, the way things have been going, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the referendum ended in a tie.