Project still among city’s main discussion

Story by Nicole Miller, Staff Writer

UW-Eau Claire Student Senator Jacob Wrasse said The Confluence Project is all about energy, positivity and creativity Tuesday evening at the Community for the Confluence pep rally.
“It was great to finally have confluence supporters all in the same room,” Wrasse said.
The event drew over a hundred people to the State Theatre in downtown Eau Claire and featured a performance from the Eau Claire Blugold Marching Band.
Guest speakers included Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt, Student Body President Bryan Larson and Wrasse. Also in attendance was Executive Director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center Ben Richgruber.
“If the community were going to build an arts center by themselves it would cost them more and it would be something less,” Schmidt said in his speech. “We need to prepare ourselves for 21st century jobs, which is human capital. The communities that can attract and retain the brightest, the most creative, the people imaging new things, those are the communities that are going to succeed and thrive in this century.”
Opposition to the project is due to a lack of understanding, said project advocate Richgruber, adding he hopes those against the project will take the time to dig into it and see the benefits.
He said the State Theatre has a serious need of renovations which will probably cost about $10 million.
Eau Claire also has some facility needs and Richgruber said a partnership brings the possibility of getting more building for a lot less money.
“It really is that once in a life time opportunity where the university needs new facilities and the community needs news facilities,” Richgruber said.
U.S. Bank announced its support and partnership of the project at the rally by making a pledge of $100,000 towards its construction.
Jeremy Gragert attended the rally and said he thinks having students living downtown as part of the revitalization, and the university reaching out the community is a positive thing to see.
“I think this new arts center is a way to add some juice into the arts and really provide the kind of facilities we need as the largest city in northwest Wisconsin,” he said. “It could really be a hub for the performing arts and music. It could be an integral piece of the downtown redevelopment.”
Larson said he thought the rally was phenomenal and moving forward encourages students to attend the public meetings.
“The turnout that we had was great to see, really good to see people coming from all different areas of the community,” Larson said. “It really is a testament to how much this is a community project.”
The Confluence Referendum Committee, a citizens group working to get a referendum, kicked off their mission Nov. 22.
They hope to get the amount of signatures they need, 3,619, from city residents before Jan. 15 to get a binding referendum on the April 1 ballot.
Christine Schaaf, an Eau Claire alumnus and resident for over 30 years, said before the project moves forward she thinks everyone in the city should be in agreement and offer it up to a public vote.
She got involved Monday by collecting signatures for the petition near Just Local Foods.
“The council members we elect — they’re our peers, could be neighbors of your mom and dad, it might be your aunt or uncle or friends and such but they run for the office,” Schaaf said. “We elect them, so large ticket items like this that come up I believe should go for a public referendum.”
She said its city policy that all projects that are over $1 million or more would need to go to a binding referendum.
“That’s why I’m involved,” Schaaf said. “I think the process is critical and it’s a good city policy to have a city ordinance to have in place.”
Development Director of Confluence Project Gary Schuster said the goal of the pep rally was to get people talking about the Confluence Project and encourage both supporters and non-supporters to come to the public hearings Tuesday and Dec. 17.
“At this point the confluence project is moving forward with Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors,” Shuster said. “We’re looking for a large group of people to attend those public hearings.”