Confluence Primer Part 1 - Why do we need it?

The April 1st election brings two referendums, one from the city and one from the county. It’s critical you understand how to vote, and get you and your friends to the polls.

Part 1

Why do we need
The Confluence Project?

1 Our city could use a big economic boost & new jobs.

Since the creation of Phoenix Park a decade ago, new buildings and businesses have brought North Barstow Street to life and created a 177% return on the City’s investment. The Confluence Project is poised to do the same and take Eau Claire several steps further.


$588,000/year -- estimated property taxes generated by the new $21.5M private, multi-use building, according to Community for the Confluence. This money will pay off the city's investment in the project.

Thanks to the project, nearby private development has already begun.

JAMF Software is building a new 65,000-square-foot office building worth at least $7 million across the river. Entrepreneurs have recently purchased both the former Ramada Inn and the Green Tree Inn with plans to revitalize them to serve the visitors a revived downtown will attract. Increased revenue from these and other near-by businesses will create new jobs and boost revenue for the city, county, and schools.

Make Eau Claire a cultural destination (and bring in tourism dollars).

Investing in the culture of a community has been repeatedly shown to have a direct correlation to economic prosperity, tax revenue, and jobs. To that end, Visit Eau Claire has pledged to move into the Confluence Project with a new tourism center. Having such a core of activity downtown will drawin in tourists and locals who will see the quickly growing economic and cultural center that surrounds Phoenix Park and the rest of downtown. Add in new hotel rooms and a better equipped arts center bringing more and larger events and you’ve got a robust marketing tool and economic development engine for the entire region.

The Confluence Project has attracted donations from major Eau Claire employers, including RCU, JAMF Software, and US Bank (more to be announced soon), who clearly see such charitable investment in the downtown economy as worthwhile. There’s also been a unanimous endorsement from the Chamber Of Commerce.

2 There are major problems with existing facilities.

The State Theatre desperately needs to be replaced.

The State Theatre, home to the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, was built as a vaudeville theater nearly 90 years ago. In 2006, the cost to renovate the theater was estimated at between $6 million and $10 million, a figure that undoubtedly would be higher today because of inflation and continued deterioration.

Even if it were renovated, the theater is physically inadequate for modern theatrical productions and other touring shows. Space in the wings of the stage is severely limited and can’t be expanded because of adjacent buildings and streets; the “fly tower” above the stage – the space where scenery, curtains, and backdrops are raised or lowered – is smaller than a modern theater’s; and the only access to the stage from outside is a single set of regular double doors, which is woefully inadequate for touring shows that may bring as much as three semis full of equipment. The time to make a change is now.

UWEC arts facilities are outdated.

While they aren’t as old as the State Theatre, UW-Eau Claire’s performing arts facilities are similarly outdated and inadequate. The primary theater on campus, Kjer Theatre, opened in 1952 and has only 400 seats. Like the State Theatre, backstage facilities at Kjer also are in poor condition and limited (some even have dirt floors). Likewise, performance and rehearsal space in the 44-year-old Haas Fine Arts Center also is outdated and well past its prime.

Because the university intends to demolish and replace Kjer Theatre soon, a collaboration with the community on a new arts facility – as called for in the university’s 2011 master plan – is a timely and very strong option.

UWEC student housing is inadequate.

Almost every year for the past two decades, on-campus housing for UW-Eau Claire students has proved to be inadequate, forcing the university to house undergraduates in off-campus motels. The construction of a privately operated 300-bed residence hall as part of the Confluence Project will help alleviate the housing shortage. And, by providing accommodations to upperclassmen in the music and theater programs, it will create a living-learning environment where students will be able to mingle with arts professionals and other community members.

What can I do?

So, when's
the vote?

The April 1st election brings two referendums, one from the city and one from the county. It’s critical you understand how to vote, and get you and your friends to the polls.

County Referendum:

Should the County of Eau Claire pledge $3,500,000 to help fund the construction of the ”The Confluence” Community Arts Project located in downtown Eau Claire?

“YES” would support the Confluence Project and send a message to WI state officials that our citizenry wants to help move this community forward.

“NO” would oppose the Confluence Project, likely turn away WI state support, and kill the project.

City Referendum:

Shall a charter ordinance be enacted that would require a binding referendum before $1,000,000 or more in city funds can be expended on any building contruction that is planned for dramatic, musical, or artistic performances?

“YES” would lead to a lengthy delay and second referendum on the Confluence Project, thus likely killing the project due to WI state funding timelines. But a ‘yes’ would also cause other unrealted problems and fights in the future for City governing and capital projects.

“NO” would defeat the proposal and allow the $5 million pledge the City Council already made to move ahead, which costs taxpayers nothing since it would be funded by the project’s future property taxes.

But I Heard ...

But I heard this will only benefit downtown Eau Claire and those ‘artsy’ types.

That’s short-sighted. The Confluence Project’s economic boost (see above) will be spread throughout the city and county by serving as a hub for Eau Claire. Revenues will increase for our community across the board.

But I heard the university is building another separate arts facility on campus.

They’re not. Though, the university needs a new facility regardless, so if The Confluence Project doesn’t happen, they’ll still be using just as much state money to build a new, lesser facility, this time on campus and not in collaboration with the community. Everyone loses out.

But I heard this project could kill local arts groups by charging them way more.

Not even close. Because the new state-of-the art facility will have three different theatre sizes, local arts groups will have the flexibility to perform in a venue that fits the size of their audience. This lowers rental cost and keeps ticket increases below $1.50, hardly enough to ‘kill off’ any local arts group.

The Confluence Project presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to meet the Chippewa Valley’s cultural and economic needs by creating a shared performing arts complex, public plaza, and commercial development with housing in the heart of downtown Eau Claire. Over the next four issues of Volume One, we’ll be examining the Confluence Project piece by piece to provide answers to some of the common questions and highlight the enormous opportunities embodied in this ambitious and community-shaping effort.