Our Public Plaza Takes Shape

Nick Meyer

The latest images of what the public plaza next to the Confluence Arts Center in downtown Eau Claire could look like have just been released and it seems things are going in the right direction (see and read more on page 11). It’s important that this piece of land alongside our rivers looks and functions more like an urban plaza than just another park. While I’d say this current iteration of the plan – with its fire, water, seating, and spaces – hits the right tone aesthetically, it’s important it be tested from a programmatic standpoint as well. All the types of happenings and events we need from this space must not only be accommodated but also improved by the structures around them. Our public spaces, when designed thoughtfully, have an ability to dramatically improve civic life, create new cultural opportunities for all, and become significant catalysts for economic development. The success of Phoenix Park is plain to see, and I’m not sure at the time of its design anyone fully realized what would take hold there. This public plaza on the other side of the confluence has a very high bar for success, because our community now knows what success looks like. Just a dozen years ago nobody here knew just how much our downtown’s identity and Phoenix Park would become inextricably linked. That same type of opportunity now lies before us with this plaza, but with a whole new twist. We need community space that can scale up and down in a way that makes it feel right to be there at any time of the day or night – whether there’s a event scheduled or not. A space that offers a number of both passive and active ways to spend time. Not a serene park-like oasis, but a street-level beating heart of daily life. As the Confluence performing arts center begins to rise next door, let’s not forget how critically important this little patch of public life can also become. Because if it’s done right, we’re about to add another amazing amenity to our growing downtown.

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