New Downtown Master Plan [w/ PICTURES]

Thom Fountain

Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. (DECI) and the South Barstow Business Improvement District unveiled their master plan for one section of downtown on May 3, expanding on and connecting various plans that have been brewing for some time. The two groups invested more than $20,000 to conduct interviews and research, and to create the plan's visuals and narrative.

The Master Plan, which was assembled by Ayres Associates and their strategic partners, is basically a wish list of suggestions that are a) awesome and b) plausible for downtown, as determined by those involved. Many ideas suggested by the public throughout the process, and even some ideas whose public discussion was kicked off with Volume One's Streets Issue in May of 2010, are evident in the new plan.

The plan is meant to follow in the footsteps of the highly successful 2001 "HyettPalma" Downtown Action Agenda (download pdf) that has helped guide DECI and downtown redevelopments for the past 10 years. Many of the recomendations from that plan – including everything from the creation of Phoenix Park to the relocation of the Farmers' Market – as well as the forming of many funding mechanisms and stakeholder groups, have been achieved. So the recommendations from this new plan will likely be taken just as seriously.

The new plan is fairly extensive and it's posted in full on DECIs website (download PDF), but let's run down some of the coolest items:

Farwell Street

Most of the suggestions for Farwell were based on the opinion that currently it's very much a barrier between everything happening on Barstow St. and the civic buildings on the other side, up to Dewey St. (including City Hall, the Library and the Eau Claire School District Building).

The first thing you'll notice is turning Farwell into a 'boulevard' – splitting it up with some green space – to make it easier to cross and less intimidating. Also, on the intersection of Farwell and Lake (illustrated above), Ayres suggested creating 'gateway features' to welcome people to downtown. This could be anything from a sign to banners to a sculture, but something to make it a destination.

Live on Grand

In one of the cooler (and newer) ideas, the group suggested making W. Grand Ave pedestrian only from a half block East of Barstow to the footbridge. But this isn't your run of the mill pedestrian mall, they suggested a retail and entertainment complex they call 'Live on Grand'. The idea – which is based on many others around the country, including Louisville's Live on 4th Street – would be to create a outdoor area (with an optional/occasional tent cover) that could be a destination for events, music, etc. Ours would obviously be a bit smaller than say, Baltimore's, but it might be one more thing to draw people to our downtown.

Transit Center

Another major change would be move the Eau Claire transit hub up a block to Dewey (and perhaps upgrade it?), thus connecting that area to downtown more and opening up a new lot on Farwell.

Future Development

One aspect of the plan was exploring options and suggestions for future development, one of which would be a boutique hotel (above) on Graham Ave., facing the river.

Another suggestion brought up was turning the current Eau Claire Area School District Administration building into low-cost apartments or condos.

Finally, the idea of an event center finding its way somewhere downtown was highly suggested, though not drawn into any plans this time around.