Eau Claire County Confluence Project Funding Referendum (April 2014)

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Back to City of Eau Claire Voter Approval of Performing Arts Building Initiative (April 2014)

An Eau Claire County Confluence Project Funding Referendum ballot question was on the April 1, 2014 election ballot for voters in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, where it was approved.

This measure authorized the county to pledge $3.5 million towards the nearly $50 million Confluence Project to build a new, on-campus performing arts center. The city of Eau Claire had pledged $5 million to the project, but this contribution was temporarily put on hold by an initiative measure also on the April ballot that would have required voter approval of any city contributions exceeding $1 million to the construction of a performing arts building. This question was defeated, allowing the city to go forward with its contribution.[1]

Election results

City of Eau Claire Referendum
Approveda Yes 11,579 54.22%
Election results from the Eau Claire County elections department.

The Confluence project

The Confluence Project, which fueled this initiative, was named for its proposed location at the confluence of Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in downtown Eau Claire, commonly called the "Haymarket Site." The site was set along Eau Claire Street and Graham Avenue. The completed project was designed to be a mixture of a community arts center, retail/commercial space, parking and university student housing. The general development plan included the possibility of expanding the project along South Barstow Street. The Eau Claire Regional Arts Council (ECRAC), along with community performing and fine arts organizations and the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, were given access to the arts center in the proposed agreement.[2]

The arts center plans included:[2]

A rendition of the proposed Confluence development
  • A 1,200-1500 seat theater to replace downtown Eau Claire's obsolete State Theatre
  • A 450-seat theater to replace UW-Eau Claire’s aging Ker Theatre;
  • A 250-seat black box-style venue;
  • Scene and costume shops;
  • Dressing rooms and other “back of house” operations;
  • Fine arts studios, gallery space and dance studio space;
  • Classrooms and rehearsal rooms;
  • Offices for ECRAC, community arts organizations and select university faculty and staff in the fine and performing arts.

Preliminary plans for the other half of the development designed for mixed-use included:[2]

  • space suitable for restaurants/bars, coffee houses, retail, offices and other commercial uses;
  • a parking structure;
  • About 100 apartments for university student housing. These apartments would be privately owned and operated and would add approximately 300-375 residents to the downtown area.

The project plan also included:[2]

  • A public plaza located on the site of the Haymarket parking lot;
  • A bridge across the Eau Claire River to connect the new plaza and the Phoenix Park;
  • The cultivation and development of riverfront trails;
  • Open space development along the trails.

Path to the ballot

The county board members voted to make the pledge of $3.5 million, but amended the resolution in a vote of 15 to 11 to require a referendum, asking for voter approval of the expenditure. Board member Joel Mikelson said, “I think it’s only fair that the taxpayer gets a kick at the can countywide.”[1]

Responses to the election

Below are some of the notable responses to the election results of the Eau Claire city and county measures showing voter support of the Confluence Project.

Chamber of Commerce

The following is a statement from Darin McFadden, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce:

Our Chamber Board would like to congratulate the project organizers on the positive result from the ballot issues in the April 1 election, which makes it possible for the Confluence Project to move onto the next stage for approval. We appreciate that a strong majority of city and county voters recognize that this project represents not only a wise public expenditure but it also serves as a sensible investment into our local economy.

The mission of the Chamber is to serve as “the advocate of business, striving to enhance and protect the business environment and the quality of life" in the Chippewa Valley. The Chamber believes strongly in this mission and firmly believes the project will enhance the economic vitality of the community while fulfilling community cultural needs. This is why our Chamber Board of Directors unanimously voted in favor of supporting this project in 2012 and reaffirmed it last December.

Although we’re very pleased with today’s ballot results, the Chamber recognizes that there is still a lot of work yet to be done before the Confluence Project becomes a reality. Enlisting philanthropic support will be one of the next critical steps to ensure that the decision makers in Madison clearly understand that our community stands ready to support this project. With more than one-third of the total amount required already raised, the Chamber is very pleased that many of our members have already stepped forward with their generous support. Companies like RCU, JAMF Software, Charter Bank, US Bank, and Northwestern Bank are a few early supporters.

Finalizing the State of Wisconsin’s contribution for UW-Eau Claire’s share of the project is also a critical next step, and our Chamber stands ready to work with project organizers to ensure that the State of Wisconsin recognizes our community supports the Confluence Project. [3]

—Darin McFadden, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, [4]

Citizens Referendum Committee

The following is a statement from Citizens Referendum Committee:

We are grateful to all the volunteers who worked so hard to insure that the citizens of Eau Claire had the right to vote on this important topic. Voter turnout was high, and the conversation on the confluence project dominated our spring thaw. We at the CRC hope that our leaders recognize all the great things that came from placing such an important decision in the hands of the voters and continue to involve the community as the project evolves. We had one simple mantra - "Let the people vote." - They have. [3]

—Mike Bollinger, Judy Olson and Larry Balow of the Citizens Referendum Committee, [4]

Representative Dana Wachs

Rep. Dana Wachs (D-91), who represents Eau Claire, said:

Yesterday’s election was a truly unique event in the history of Eau Claire and one of the most encouraging. Voters have proven that they support the Confluence Project and what it means for the future of Eau Claire. This has been a strong collaborative effort that we can all be proud of.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I look forward to working with local and state officials and my colleagues in the Legislature to make this project a reality. [3]

Rep. Dana Wachs (D-91), [4]

Voters with Facts

The pro-initiative group Voters With Facts issued the following statement:

Voters with Facts thanks its volunteers and the many citizens that supported its efforts. We were pleased at the turn out and impressed by the number of “yes” votes for the City referendum. The 5,584 “yes” votes are a significant number. They constitute 91% of the total votes cast during last year’s City Council election and more than any one of the individual at large council members received. Given that Voters with Facts was out spent by a ratio in excess of 20 to 1, the number of misleading statements made by the pro-confluence groups that were repeated by the media, and the minimal press (mostly negative) coverage, this is truly a remarkable result. Going forward, Voters With Facts expects the City and Council to recognize the fact that there are a substantial number of citizens that are concerned about the Confluence Project and henceforth provide full and honest disclosure of the impact of proposed actions on property taxes, debt, and future budgets.

Voters with Facts will continue in its role as a grassroots organization that provides facts to taxpayers. [3]

—Voters with Facts, [4]

Clear Vision Eau Claire

The group called Clear Vision Eau Claire had this to say in response to the voters support of the Confluence Project:

The Clear Vision Eau Claire Board of Directors is pleased the outcomes of the City of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County votes on referendum questions related to the Confluence Project verify what the Clear Vision process first identified in fall 2007 – that improved events facilities are a high priority for our community.

The overwhelming votes of support affirm that our community is ready to embrace the strategic change necessary to enhance quality of life and spur economic development, as outlined in the initial Clear Vision report – which was developed through input from hundreds of our fellow citizens.

Clear Vision Eau Claire will continue to be active in the development of the Confluence Project and engaged in the public work necessary to achieve it. [3]

—Clear Vision Eau Claire, [4]

Related measures

Defeatedd City of Eau Claire Voter Approval of Performing Arts Building Initiative (April 2014)

See also


External links

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