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A Look at the Future?

panels ponder multiuse Confluence building; Regents gives thumbs up to performing arts center

Tom Giffey

This new rendering shows the multiuse building that would be part of the proposed Confluence Project on South Barstow Street. The view is from the northeast.
This new rendering shows the multiuse building that would be part of the proposed Confluence Project on South Barstow Street. The view is from the northeast.

Depending on when you read these words, demolition is likely complete on the future site of the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire. And even as the old buildings were coming down, we got a first look at what might replace them – as well as taste of the public debate over those designs.

A new architectural rendering from Commonweal Development shows a six-story multiuse building with 34,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor – including space for offices and as many as three restaurants – as well as 119 units of student-oriented housing and underground parking. While the design is by no means final, it gives the public a clearer idea of what the privately built, privately funded part of the Confluence Project will look like. (Meanwhile, the drive continues to fund the proposed public-private performing arts center next door – more on that below.)

“This is great news and gives us a very defined direction as we proceed in the next steps to secure state funding for the Confluence Project.” – UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt on the UW System Board of Regents’ vote The developer’s plan still must go before a pair of city panels. First up was the Waterways and Parks Commission, which on Aug. 27 studied plans, asked questions, and decided to collect more information before making up its collective mind. Dan Clumpner of Commonweal Development said commission members as well as residents who spoke at the meeting focused on how the new building would fit in with Barstow Street’s historic architecture, how the structure would look from the nearby rivers, and how planned pedestrian and bike paths would connect with existing trails. Clumpner said Commonweal will address these and other concerns at a future Waterways and Parks Commission meeting as well as before the Plan Commission, which is tentatively expected to consider the project on Sept. 15. While the Waterways and Parks Commission’s eventual decision will be advisory, the Plan Commission has jurisdiction to approve, reject, or ask for changes to the site plan.

Pending city approval, Clumpner says site prep work and construction are schedule to start this fall, with a completion date for the multiuse building planned for June 2016.

Regents High Five Confluence

Meanwhile, the UW System Board of Regents once again gave a big thumbs up to the Confluence Project. In a unanimous vote at their Aug. 21 meeting in Oshkosh, the Regents directed System President Ray Cross to work with state officials to get funding for the joint university-community performing arts center included in the state’s 2015-17 budget. The money won’t come through the UW System’s part of the budget, however: Instead, it will be via what’s called the “non-state agency grant program,” which has been used to fund community projects statewide, such as Medical College of Wisconsin construction and a Green Bay convention center.

“This is great news and gives us a very defined direction as we proceed in the next steps to secure state funding for the Confluence Project, which has been the goal since the project was first announced in May 2012,” UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said in a press release. “We will work closely with UW System, our local partners and the Department of Administration to complete the nonstate agency grant application by the Sept. 12 deadline.”

While UWEC and its partners originally had considered pursuing funding for the project directly through the UW System budget, going the nonstate grant route became an option after Gov. Scott Walker suggested it in June.  

The state’s share of the roughly $50 million performing arts center still must make it through the state budget process, including getting approval from the state building commission, the Legislature, and ultimately the governor. The other half of the arts center’s cost will be funded by private donations and local government contributions.