Deck expansion in Carson Park meets opposition

Groups concerned with binge drinking conflict with Eau Claire Express proposal


Story by Alex Zank, OP / ED Editor

The Eau Claire Express withdrew a request to add more platform deck space in the grandstand area of Carson Park after a debate at a recent Eau Claire City Council hearing.

The debate centered around binge drinking and how to best  control it at the stadium.

Bill Rowlett, managing director of the Express, said the proposed platform decks were different from the fan deck. The difference is these decks would be for private parties and could  be rented out from businesses or other groups.

There would be private catering and drink service at these decks, which would require an expanded alcohol licensing. This is when the group approached Rowlett and the Express with their concerns.

The group — a collection of people from Eau Claire Healthy Communities and the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention — were worried about expanding the fan deck element into the grandstand area.

Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City/County Health Department, said the hearing was a time for public discussion on the issue of healthy, normal behavior as opposed to behavior that is harmful.

She said the group was not directly demanding anything be changed, but wanted to present information on what is a healthy drinking limit.

Giese said three or fewer drinks constituted a healthy limit, as opposed to more than seven drinks, which is what fan deck patrons drink on average.

“What we tried to point out to them is problem with the fan deck element,” Rowlett said. “They perceive that [the deck is] a drunk and disorderly area.”

He said the police have been called to stadium very few times, and none were in connection to fan deck rowdiness.

Senior Corina Van Duser attended the fan deck once for a work-related event. She said there were plenty of people drinking, and there were long lines of patrons taking advantage of the free food and beer, but it never got too out of hand.

“It was more of a pleasant drinking atmosphere,” she said.

Rowlett said the people raising concerns of binge drinking at games were “frankly people we don’t see at the park.”

Reintroducing plans for deck expansion would likely not be pursued, Rowlett said.

Giese stressed those concerned with excessive drinking were not singling out the Express or the grandstand expansion itself, but were taking advantage of a public discussion on healthy behavior.

“The bottom line is Eau Claire had an opportunity to look at our policy around unlimited drinking,” she said, pointing out that the county has a higher level of binge drinking behavior than at both the national and state level.

The UW-Eau Claire Center for Alcohol Studies and Education has several low-risk drinking strategies for students planning to attend events like an Express game. These include: eat before drinking, plan ahead, slow down if needed, keep track of drinks, alternate drinks with water, set a spending limit and stay with trustworthy friends.