Difference between revisions of "City of Eau Claire Voter Approval of Performing Arts Building Initiative (April 2014)"

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===Arguments in favor===
===Arguments in favor===
Supporters of the initiative argued that the initiative would give voters an important say in large expenditures by the city and that it will help to achieve fiscal responsibility and achieve discernment in the selection of construction projects.<ref name=ready/>
Supporters of the initiative argued that the initiative would give voters an important say in large expenditures by the city and that it would help to achieve fiscal responsibility and discernment in the selection of construction projects.<ref name=ready/>

Revision as of 13:19, 6 April 2014

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A City of Eau Claire Voter Approval of Performing Arts Building Initiative, ballot question was on the April 1, 2014 election ballot for voters in the city of Eau Claire, the county seat of Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, where it was defeated.

If approved, this measure would have required voter approval in a city wide referendum before the city would authorize any contribution higher than $1 million to the construction of a performing arts building. The initiative, backed by the Citizen Referendum Committee, targeted the proposed $50 million Confluence Project to build a new performing arts building, to which the city had pledged $5 million in subsidies. Although the approval of this initiative did not directly refer to the funding of the Confluence Project, it would have necessitated voter approval before the project could continue and would have triggered a referendum question on the November ballot asking voters whether or not the city should go through with the $5 million subsidy.[1]

Another ballot measure was be on the April 1 ballot for voters throughout the entire county. This measure asked voters directly if they approved or disapproved of a $3.5 million contribution to the Confluence project to be made by the county. It was approved.[2]

Election results

City of Eau Claire Referendum
Defeatedd No8,09559.18%
Yes 5,584 40.82%
Election results from the Eau Claire County elections department.

Text of measure

Descriptive title

The descriptive title of the ordinance proposed for approval by this ballot measure was:[3]

A Charter Ordinance enacted pursuant to the provisions of S.66.0101, Wisconsin Statutes, to require that certain building projects constructed with funds of the city or a city entity shall be submitted to referendum prior to construction.[4]

Ballot question

The question on the ballot was:

Shall a charter ordinance be enacted that would require a binding referendum before $1,000,000 or more in city funds can be expended on any building construction that is planned for dramatic, musical, or artistic performances?[1][4]

Petition summary

The summary found on the circulated petitions read as follows:[3]

Prior to the start of any physical construction of any municipally financed (in whole or in part) project which includes a building planned for dramatic, musical, or artistic performances, requiring a capital expenditure by the City, or by any entity created by the City, of one million dollars or more, the City Council shall submit to the electorate a binding referendum for approval of the project. Failure of the binding referendum shall preclude the City of City entity from proceeding with the project. The wording of any referendum shall provide the specific purpose, location and cost of the project and an estimate of operating costs which will be provided by the City or a City entity. Nothing in this provision shall be construed to preclude the City from exercising its role in the planning or design of such publicly financed projects.

This ordinance shall be in full force and effect upon passage and publication as provided by law.[4]




  • Councilwoman Monica Lewis
  • Councilman Dave Duax
  • Citizen Referendum Committee

Duax said, “In the end the people rule, and we have to yield to what they want."[1]

Lewis said, “I’m going to be happy that this goes to ballot, but I think it’s sad that some people say that they hope it can be defeated in court."[1]

Arguments in favor

Supporters of the initiative argued that the initiative would give voters an important say in large expenditures by the city and that it would help to achieve fiscal responsibility and discernment in the selection of construction projects.[2]



  • Community for the Confluence[5]
  • Members of the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Student Senate
  • City Councilman Eric Larsen
  • Councilman Dave Klinkhammer
  • Voiced for Growth

The Eau Claire Regional Art Center (ECRAC) supported the Confluence project and opposed any effort that endangers the possibility of its construction.[6]

Arguments against

Russel Van Gompel discusses how the referendum would affect the Confluence and other Arts projects

Critics of the initiative, especially those associated with the University of Wisconsin, have expressed concern that the initiative would inhibit the construction, rehabilitation and improvement of performing arts centers and buildings on campus. Specifically, opponents referred to facilities at Carson Park and Hobbs Ice Center, which buildings were often used to host performing arts related activities. The ordinance proposed by this measure would have required voter approval of any repair or renovation on these buildings costing the city more than $1 million. Critics were also concerned that voters did not realize these far-reaching effects of a yes vote on the April referendum question.[7]

Jake Wrasse, the UW-Eau Claire Student Senate intergovernmental affairs director, said, "We want to make sure the discussion about what this referendum could do, what it really means, has occurred. We want voters to know what they're voting on. This vote is about much more than just the Confluence."[7]

Eau Claire City Manager Russell Van Gompel also expressed concern over the risk of voter confusion on the issue. He said, "What people need to understand is the fact that this changes the way we approve capital projects. This is really about requiring a binding referendum for projects of $1 million or more for dramatic, musical or artistic performances. The problem is projects related to the definition of dramatic, musical or artistic performances are open to interpretation."[7]

Van Gompel also said that approval of this measure could take decision-making power away from the City Council members and stated that he worried the law could lead to many lawsuits.[7]

Klinkhammer said, “My objection is that it is bad law. It is confusion. It is not accurate. If it was a vote about the Confluence ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it would make sense. That’s not what this referendum’s about, but that’s the way it was explained.”[1]

The group Community for the Confluence put together a series of videos about the confluence project, including one of City Manager Russell Van Gompel discussing the effects this ballot measure could have on the confluence project. This video is featured on the right.

The Confluence project

The Confluence project, which fueled this initiative, was named for its proposed location at the confluence of the 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 by the proposed agreement.[8]

A rendition of the proposed Confluence development

The arts center plans included:[8]

  • 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 commercial/retail space included:[8]

  • 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 also included plans for:[8]

  • 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

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in Wisconsin

The Citizen Referendum Committee turned in signature petitions on December 26, 2013, and the petitions were certified as sufficient by the City Clerk, forcing the city council to either pass the initiative as submitted or put it to a city wide vote. The city council voted nine to one to put the proposed ordinance before the city electors instead of directly enacting it.[1]

Similar measures

Other measures requiring similar voter approval before public spending on sports arena's can be approved include:

Related measures

Approveda Eau Claire County Confluence Project Funding Referendum (April 2014)

See also


External links

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Basic information


Additional reading