Long-Shuttered Metro Will Be Ready By January Deadline, Owner Says
downtown E.C. venue must reopen by Jan. 3 or risk losing liquor license
Nearly three years after it was forced to close because of a kitchen fire – and later a pandemic – The Metro, a downtown Eau Claire event venue, will reopen in January, its owner says.
Benny Haas, who also owns another Eau Claire venue and restaurant, The Plus – which was also shuttered amid the pandemic, but re-opened in September – said an architect and the state of Wisconsin have approved final plans for the remodeling, which is underway.
When completed, The Metro, 201 E. Lake St., will look different, in part because of the removal of a wall, an alteration that has significantly expanded the venue’s size. Haas said the capacity will increase from 496 to 1,050 people, which he said will impact the kind of musical acts The Metro will be able to attract. (For comparison, the biggest space at the Pablo Center at the Confluence is the 1,200-seat RCU Theatre, although the spaces are vastly different in style.)
“I’m very excited to see all of the cool things we have in the works,” Haas said.
As of early December, the remodeling of The Metro was taking shape: Walls had been removed, the walls and ceiling had been painted, and a contractor was prepared to lay flooring. However, plenty of work remained, including the completion of bathrooms and bars on the venue’s upper and lower levels.
I’m very excited to see all of the cool things we have in the works.
OWNER, THE METRO
“We’ll open the event area first and fast,” Haas said, noting that the kitchen necessary for hosting wedding receptions will be completed later. However, he’s hopeful The Metro will be ready to host weddings next spring and summer.
Haas knows he’s working against the clock: According to an agreement reached with the City of Eau Claire in May, The Metro must be reopened by Jan. 3 or Haas will have to surrender the business’s liquor license. Before the memorandum of understanding was signed, the city had proposed revoking the liquor licenses from both The Plus and The Metro unless they reopened.
In an interview this month, Assistant City Attorney Jenessa Stromberger confirmed that the memorandum of understanding requires that The Metro must complete necessary repairs, obtain an occupancy permit, and be open and hosting events on or before Jan. 3.
“It shall not be considered use of the alcohol license to have ‘booked’ events on or before January 3rd, 2023; events must have been lawfully held in The Metro on or before that date,” the memo states. In addition, the city must inspect the venue by Jan. 3 to determine if the business is in compliance with the agreement.
Despite the looming deadline, Haas is upbeat about the future of The Metro, which opened in 2017 as a music venue and event center in what had been the Boys & Girls Club. The Metro hosted everything from well-known touring and local musicians to wedding receptions before being shuttered after a kitchen fire in February 2020. The following month the pandemic was declared, and for the following two years the venue sat empty, with renovations proceeding in fits and starts.
Haas said the venue’s expanded capacity will help land higher-profile musical acts, and he said he had reached agreements with several club owners in the Twin Cities to remove geographic exclusions in their contracts which prevented some performers from playing in Eau Claire before or after shows in the Twin Cities.
While The Metro’s performance space is now bigger, floor-to-ceiling curtains will be able to divide the space, providing a more intimate setting, he said. In the near future, he anticipates The Metro being used for pop-up dance parties, helping bring to the Chippewa Valley entertainment that might not otherwise come here. (One of the first events to be booked, he said, was some semi-pro wrestling.)
Meanwhile, Haas said that entertainment options would continue to expand at The Plus, 208 S. Barstow St. The pizza place/bar/venue reopened in September, and since then has hosted a number of musical performances. Within a few weeks, remodeling will be completed on the main dining room – which also includes the venue’s stage – and the number of performances will continue to grow, he said.