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Posted: August 1, 2012 Idea Lounge: The Confluence Project - Article from the Leader Telegram

By Liam Marlaire Leader-Telegram staff  

The Confluence Project, a public-private initiative proposed for a 4.7-acre plot at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers, drew more than 100 residents for the latest installment of the Idea Lounge discussion series. The project would comprise a performing arts center, a mixed-use building featuring a UW-Eau Claire residence hall and commercial businesses, and a public plaza.


Retaining the historical texture of downtown Eau Claire was a top concern Wednesday night during a public discussion on a proposed development for the city's center.


Meeting attendees such as Sharon Hildebrand, who once was a member of the Eau Claire Historic Landmarks Commission, expressed concern about maintaining the historical identity of downtown Eau Claire. Alex Snyder, who lives on the city's north side, asked if some of the architectural details of buildings being torn down could be incorporated into the new structures. The discussion was focused on properties along South Barstow Street that would be removed.


Stuart Schaefer, president of Commonweal Development, a partner in the plan, said the parties behind the project having been taking such concerns under consideration. He was a member of a panel that also included Mike Rindo of UW-Eau Claire, Ben Richgruber of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center and Vicki Hoehn of Clear Vision Eau Claire.


"A new building can be built that would retain some of that character," said Schaefer, who added that the properties he's assessed are "structurally and mechanically challenged" and have "served their useful lives."


"If you just leave what's there, I don't think you'll see a resurgence in this area," Schaefer added.


The total cost of the project is estimated at about $88 million. Much of that money would come from the state for UW-Eau Claire's stake in both properties, with $14 million to $15 million coming from the city and county and $10 million to $12 million via philanthropic sources.


Mary Jo Wagner, who moderated the event, asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they were in support of the project. A vast majority of the crowd did.


"What we're doing here is starting to build a new history for the city of Eau Claire," said Kirk Ausman, a member of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center board of directors who has a background in construction. "If you're for preserving history, you should also look at creating history."





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