Long Wait for a Transfer: City seeking input on new transit center
For 35 years, Eau Claire mass-transit users have waited for a permanent downtown transfer center. And, for 35 years, these bus riders have made do with a “temporary” building that’s little more than a concrete-block shed with benches (and, fortunately, heat).
“We want to have as much public input (as possible) on it and get buy-in.” – Tom Wagener, Eau Claire Transit manager, on the planning process for a new transfer center
The long wait for a permanent transit transfer center is almost over: With the help of a $5 million federal grant announced last year and a (still undisclosed) private developer, construction is expected to begin next fall on a seven-story structure that would combine 10 enclosed bus bays, potential offices and retail space, above-ground parking (one level for members of the public, two for residents), and three stories of apartments.
The new building will be on the site of the current transfer center – the 400 block of South Farwell Street – and a temporary transfer center will be kitty-corner across Farwell in a city parking lot next to the historic Schlegelmilch House.
Earlier this month, the city held an open house to get public input on the project in the most appropriate place possible: the transit center itself. As buses came and went, curious passengers perused posters displaying maps and possible design elements for the new facility. They used colored stickers to vote on components they’d like to see included, such as restrooms, vending machines, and bike lockers.
“We want to have as much public input (as possible) on it and get buy-in,” explained Tom Wagener, the city’s transit manager. The input session was the first of several planned over the next few months.
City Councilmember Jeremy Gragert, who serves on the city’s Transit Commission and attended the open house, said he wants the new facility to be built to accommodate as many buses as possible – and not just city buses. He hopes the transfer center can also become a hub for intercity buses, such as Greyhound and Badger Bus, which currently don’t serve downtown Eau Claire, as well as other forms of transit, such as ride sharing and paratransit services for people with disabilities.
In addition to Wagener and other city officials, representatives of Duluth-based architectural firm LHB were on hand to answer questions. LHB will serve as the main architect on the project, while Eau Claire’s Market & Johnson will be construction manager.
Aaron Kelly, architectural project manager with LHB, said feedback about the project from transit users was generally positive. Kelly described the transit center as a “catalyst project” that will change the scale of the street – not least because, at seven stories, it will considerably taller than nearby buildings. “We certainly want to be sensitive to the current context,” he said, noting the structure’s design will complement the look and feel of the neighborhood.
Kelly said the transit center project poses challenges because of the relatively narrow width of the three-quarter acre site. (The new building is expected to cover the entire area now occupied by the transit center, the bus driveways, and a small public parking lot.) However, it will be designed to increase safety by keeping pedestrians, cars, and buses out of each other’s way.
Wagener, the transit manager, said the total budget for the transfer center portion of the project will be $4.3 million. The cost of the privately developed portion was originally estimated at $16.6 million, but that could change once design details are finished, Wagener said.
Construction is expected to be completed on the entire project by the third quarter of 2021.
Want to share your ideas on Eau Claire’s proposed transit transfer center? Future input sessions will be held 6-7:30pm Wednesday, Nov. 13, in room 1924 of Centennial Hall on the UW-Eau Claire, and 6-7:30pm Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.