Visions of the Future

DECI and the South Barstow BID unveil a long-range plan for downtown Eau Claire

Thom Fountain, Nick Meyer

Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. (DECI) and the South Barstow Business Improvement District unveiled their master plan for one section of downtown on May 3, expanding on and connecting various plans that have been brewing for some time. The two groups invested more than $20,000 to conduct interviews and research, and to create the plan’s visuals and narrative.

The Master Plan, which was assembled by Ayres Associates and their strategic partners, is basically a wish list of suggestions that are a) awesome and b) plausible for downtown, as determined by those involved. Many ideas suggested by the public throughout the process, and even some ideas whose public discussion was kicked off with Volume One’s “Reinventing our Streets” issue in May of 2010, are evident in the new plan.

The plan is meant to follow in the footsteps of the highly successful 2001 “HyettPalma” Downtown Action Agenda that has helped guide DECI and downtown redevelopments for the past 10 years. Many of the recomendations from that plan – including everything from the creation of Phoenix Park to the relocation of the Farmers’ Market – as well as the forming of many funding mechanisms and stakeholder groups, have been achieved (see the list here). So the recommendations from this new plan will likely be taken just as seriously. Shown here are just a few highlights of the lengthy document, which you can find here: download PDF

In one of the cooler (and newer) ideas, the group suggested making W. Grand Ave pedestrian only from a half block East of Barstow to the footbridge. But this isn't your run of the mill pedestrian mall, it would be a retail and entertainment complex they call 'Live on Grand'. The idea – which is based on many others around the country – would be to create a outdoor area (with an optional/occasional tent cover) that could be a destination for events, music, etc.

Most of the suggestions for Farwell were based on the opinion that it’s currently a barrier between everything happening on Barstow St. and the civic buildings on the other side. The first thing you’ll notice is turning Farwell into a ‘boulevard’ – splitting it up with some green space – to make it easier to cross. The plan also suggests creating ‘gateway features’ to welcome people to downtown. This could be anything from a sign to banners to a sculture, but something to signal you’ve “arrived.”

As has been suggested before, Ayres pushed that Graham Avenue needs quite a bit of redevelopment. While some of that seems to be in the works (see the previous page), suggestions came for commercial and residential buildings that interacted well with the river. In the illustrations, they proposed some options for private developers who might be interested in capitalizing on some of the other new attractions in the downtown.

One aspect of the plan was exploring options and suggestions for future development, one of which would be a boutique hotel (above) on Graham Ave., facing the river. Another suggestion brought up was turning the current Eau Claire Area School District Administration building into low-cost apartments or condos. Finally, the idea of a large event center and/or convention center finding its way somewhere downtown was highly suggested, though not drawn into any plans this time around.

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