Urban make-over

Renee Rosenow

While waiting on a decision several years ago, local artists filled the windows of 2 South Barstow with scenes of people in cafes and loft apartments. Now, the paintings and building are waiting on yet another decision.

The Redevelopment Authority will make its recommendation to the City Council in the next few months concerning the plans for the building at 2 South Barstow, said Thomas Kemp, City Council representative to the RA.

The RA is a panel of citizens, members of City Council as well as the City Manager and City Attorney.

Before the RA makes its decision, Kemp added, they will hear presentations about four proposals for the building.

Overall, the proposals include potential for commercial/retail space, condos/loft apartments and office space.

A fifth proposal for non-profit use was not completely dismissed, just severely discounted in comparison to the others, Kemp said.

40 percent of property in Eau Claire is non-profit, Kemp said, and brings in no tax base, which the city needs and uses for police/fire response, street repairs and other necessities.

The people who will use the building, he added, will be in need of those necessities and tax base and the non-profit proposal as a last resort.

2 South Barstow has been vacant for over 10 years said Mike Schatz, Economic Development Director for the city of Eau Claire.

The building is in demand, Schatz said, for several reasons. The architectural style, common vernacular, seems to be in demand and the building’s location on the river and in the downtown area has a fantastic view.

He added, the inside of the building is in need of extreme remodeling. There are no utilities; an elevator is needed as well as new paint and a secondary fire escape. Also, parts of the roof need to be replaced.

The cost of the building is up to buyers and is related to what the tax value of the building will be, repairs and other costs, Schatz said.

“I think it’s quite clear it’s going to take a substantial amount of funds to renovate the building,” Schatz said.

Several of the proposals have plans for the second and third floor of the building as apartments or condos. The price of these will depend on whoever the RA chooses as the buyer, and it’s hard to say if students would live in them, Schatz said.

Senior Chris Malina said he feels that downtown development is moving slowly but is going in the right direction.

“Downtown was pathetic . it really is getting better,” Malina said in comparison to when he was a freshman.

Malina said the building at 2 South Barstow has awesome murals. He added that he thinks it’s a good idea to have a restaurant or a café on the first floor and apartments on the other floors.

However, Malina disagrees with discounting the non-profit proposal decision.

“I think a non-profit organization could bring a lot of people downtown,” Malina said, adding that non-profit organizations bring business downtown as well.

Overall, Schatz said, potential buyers need to consider other issues with the building, such as expenses, code compliance issues and there is no adjacent parking.

Kemp said that demolition is still an option as the area is prime real estate. If no one thinks they can make money using the building, than other options should be considered. However, the building comes first.

“I hope we can find someone to take care of it,” Kemp said. “It’s a real treasure for the city. I’d really like to save that building if we can.”

For now, the building with its painted windows will just have to wait.