Letter from Corrine Charlson

Am I the only person in Eau Claire that is opposed to razing historic South Barstow buildings.  I cannot envision the Confluence concept, even with glorious drawings gracing pages of our local newspaper for months.  These beautiful old buildings are prime property for renovation into stores/apartments suggested by the Confluence/University.  Old Luttrell Photograph was renovated several years ago into ground-floor business/great apartment above.  This can be done to Northern State, Fashion Store, Scandinavian Imports, Stevensons, etc. 

 My family is fourth generation Eau Clairites.  I am humbled to have been born/raised in this beautiful city.  My grandfather was part owner/architect of E.M. Fish Company (Met Credit parking lot), who built many historical homes in Eau Claire.  He may have been involved in construction of those historic buildings.  The lies put forth by Confluence constituents stating these buildings are built on sawdust/sand!  How outrageous!  And disrespectful to the intelligence/knowledge of our ancestors!  Is it possible they would be  standing 100 years later!  A bold faced lie.  Built on shale and rock, solid!  Cracks, of course.  Any building 100 years old has cracks that can be mended. 

 University does not need to be downtown.  Stay on University property,  recently acquired for over a million.  Art center built in a flood zone?  No!  Priory Road land, perfect with gorgeous city view.  Many acres available.  One comment at Planning Commission meeting, the University should be “spread around town.”  Really!  Student housing is found in all city wards.  Dorms should be on University property.  Let private investors build dorms; currently West Clairemont.  Away from rivers to help with a serious University problem of “drinking and drowning.”  Have we heard this mentioned before?

 Will others be stimulated to speak out in favor of preserving historic downtown?  “Breathe new life into the old.”  Leave Eau Claire with character/charm.

 Corinne Charlson


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Confluence Referendum Committee News


A letter requesting a city-wide, binding referendum on the Confluence Project was submitted to the City of Eau Claire on Monday.

The Confluence Referendum Committee held a news conference on Monday. At the news conference, the committee tried to give its letter to Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid, but she refused to accept it. The committee then submitted it to Eau Claire City Manager Russ Van Gompel.

It’s still unclear when the committee will begin gathering signatures that it needs to get the referendum on the ballot in the 2014 Spring Election. One of its three members says in a statement that it believes people living in the community should have an opportunity to vote for the future of downtown Eau Claire. It goes on to say that the committee is ready to gather the signatures to make sure it happens even if the city council believes people living in Eau Claire can’t make the decision for themselves.


Important Date: 10-21-2013 for Council Vote on Confluence project

Oct 9, 2013 6:55 p.m.

Eau Claire (WQOW) – Will the Confluence Project come together? It may not be long before we know the answer. The project will come to a vote in Eau Claire in two weeks.

Developers plan to ask the city for $10.9 million to support the downtown project. The city will present the council with what it feels is appropriate and from there, the council will decide, thumbs up or thumbs down.

A task force for the project is also taking shape. Eau Claire City Council Member Kathy Mitchell says, “This task force isn’t going to run the arts center, it’s not going to set policy. It’s simply going to decide the structure for the governing body of the arts center.”

Tuesday night, the Eau Claire City Council selected Kathy Mitchell and Eric Larsen to represent the city on a task force that will help decide how a management team for the community arts center could run. “I think people will feel a little bit more secure in the project if they know what the makeup of that council is going to be,” says Mitchell.

There will be nine members, including representatives from local arts groups, the university, and the business community. Eau Claire’s Own News 18 asked Mitchell if the creation of the group is premature, considering they haven’t voted on whether the city will commit to help pay for the project.

Mitchell says, “If it doesn’t happen in the end, I don’t think there’s anything lost because I think this will be a good exercise for us.”

The time for the city to make a decision on the project is fast approaching. Eau Claire City Manager Russ Van Gompel says, “We are trying to see if there is enough support to make a pledge, and make a pledge that is acceptable to move the project forward.”

Van Gompel says he, along with the city attorney and finance director, have been in negotiations with developers. He says, “It is a big step in the project and I think it’s one that allows the developers and our other partners with the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire to move forward in that next process.”

Van Gompel says the city council will be presented with a resolution to make a pledge to the project at its next council meeting. He couldn’t say the specifics of a dollar amount but did say it will be conditional. He says, “Yes it will be conditioned, we are willing to be a partner in this project but that partnership… we have to have all these other components fall into place in order for that to occur.”

Those conditions are unknown at this time. The lead developer says he’s not privy to what the final resolution will look like, including the provisions. He has said in the past that without city support, the $80-million project probably won’t move forward.

The city’s pledge with conditions, will go before the city council on Monday, October 21st. There will be a public hearing that night and then a vote is expected the next day.

Local Landmark Designation

Building Deemed Local Landmark: May Still Be Torn Down for Confluence Project

Posted: Oct 10, 2013 10:28 PM CDT

By Jerry Gallagher

Eau Claire (WQOW) – A vote in Eau Claire Thursday night may buy more time for those who want to preserve South Barstow, but it doesn’t appear to be a long term roadblock for Confluence Project developers.

The Landmarks Commission voted 5-2 in favor of designating 6 South Barstow a local landmark.  That building is the old Kline Department Store and it’s one developers want to raze to make room for the $80 million Confluence Project.  Before the vote, there was a public hearing and citizens weighed in.  Most were in support of the project, but also wanted the building saved.  “We had a beautiful opera house. We now have a plaque. We had a beautiful railroad depot. We now have a plaque. We don’t really need any more plaques in Eau Claire,” said one resident.  Another citizen said, “Without cooperation, I don’t see how, what you do today, will stand.”

A member of the Landmarks Commission said he believes the local landmark designation does not protect the building from being torn down.  It just buys more time for supporters to try to negotiate a compromise.  For example, the commission member said the owner of 6 South Barstow may now have to appeal the decision, which could go to the city council.

Mike Bollinger Response to Venuworks Report

Kerry Kincaid – President, Eau Claire City Council
Members of the City Council
Don Huebscher – Eau Claire LeaderTelegram
Lisa Patrow – WQOW


Dear President Kincaid,

I had the opportunity to review the recent consultant report regarding the Confluence Project that I found on the web site, http://www.eauclairearts.com/confluence.

The headline on this website promotes a 1st year operating surplus of $100,000 and when I first saw this, it prompted me to dig just a little deeper. Particularly when I read the in the details of this report on page 98 the following – “The preliminary annual budget represents a year of mature operation of the venue with a schedule that has been built up with several years of marketing and sales initiatives.”

In other words, (and this is my interpretation) should all the stars align, and should we have been in operation fully for several years – our results “could look like this”. THAT is a big assumption.

As you may know, I work in Business Transformation with some of the largest organizations in this country. Our work includes thought leadership and I have members on my team who develop business plans, and detailed business case models as a part of the overall practice. As such, when our teams have deep conversations with customers, we are careful to call out assumptions – as they are the central point of any model. The mathematics will always work, it is the assumptions that are suspect and must be agreed to.

To that end, I dug deep into this report and I have some observations which I would like to share with you. I list my observations below – and I call special attention to point 1d.

1) As with any consultant’s report, I look for conflict of interest, (is it commissioned by people who stand to gain, is the consultant angling for more work?) and I look for statements which qualify their findings. I found a few things of interest here.

a. The study was commissioned by two groups with highly vested interests. Haymarket Concepts (LLC) and The Eau Claire Regional Arts Council. As such, it means that the development of the report and the various interim steps by which it was finalized may have placed a “spin” on the final product.

i. As a simple yet concerning example, note the following from page 9 – “At the request of the Project Committee, a modified and more conservative Pro Forma was developed for discussion.
purposes only and is not a part of this Plan. Modifications to the ProForma assumptions included a reduction of the projected attendance at events and rehearsals in the Mid-sized theatre and a reduction of non-performance days in the Black Box Theatre. These revisions resulted in an annual attendance figure of 131,925 with 551 event days. The Arts Center 1st year financial return, with these revised figures, would reflect an annual operating surplus of $61,366.”

b. Venuworks “operates” many other venues. They take an operators perspective in their report (a plus) and they make a pitch to be the operator here (a distinct minus).

c. The report itself however is extremely conservative and they authors are careful to note deficiencies in their language. This is the sign of care in a report and I commend the authors for their solid advice which needs to be listened to. I suspect though that this may not occur as it is often hard to dig out as it is buried in the verbiage. Examples include:

i. Page 2, Executive summary – Project organizers have proposed that the Board/Council would consist of seven members rather than the nine members recommended in the Plan. Representatives on the Board/Council would consist of representatives of UW-Eau Claire, the local arts community, including ECRAC, Visit Eau Claire and the developer.

ii. Page 2, Executive summary (Why was Roger’s and Associates commissioned to override the Venuworks analysis?)- The development and operation of the Community Arts Center is projected to have a significant positive economic impact in the Eau Claire market. Building on the economic impact information contained in the Business Plan, the Rogers & Associates analysis projects the immediate and likely long term effects on job creation and certain impacts to property tax and sales tax for the City of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County.

d. Buried in the bottom of Pg 8…in the report I find this bit of language.

i. “Very few performing arts centers of the type described in this Plan are profitable without operational allocations from various funding sources. In most cases, annual earned revenues are less than annual operating expenses. The Pro Forma Budget set out in the Plan reflects conservative revenues based on aggressive sales and marketing efforts.”


2) As with any analysis, the math will always work, what matters is the assumptions that are given, and whether or not you can accept the nature of the projections. Here, for me is where the basics break down into speculation at best. You can read these assumptions on your own starting on page 97 of the final report; however I call your attention to the following.

a. There’s no mention of construction costs or means to finance. This is this project’s greatest concern, because according to the 2010 Eau Claire city budget, bonded debt held by the city increased 85% from $660 / capita in 2001 to $1,223 / capita in 2010. Eau Claire County also ranks in the top seven percent nationwide on property taxes according to http://www.tax-rates.org.

b. A pre-opening budget is not contemplated, the report suggests that this not be part of the operating budget (obviously) but it does recommend staffing before construction is complete. Again, sketchy from an accounting perspective in terms of booking a capital expenditure to an operations expense (hiring staff before you open).

c. Operating expense is estimated to be $1.1 to $1.2 million annually. Year one profit/loss does not account for staff start-up costs prior to opening, a point which is CLEARLY called out by the report on page

d. An assumption of 646 event days in the first year, attracting 176,400 patrons and generating $572,000 revenue. The baseline for this estimate includes surrounding area destination venues such as Countryfest, CountryJam and Rockfest. These should not be included as they are not a comparable to what an events center would try to garner support for.

e. Even if these sales goals are reached, the report depends on UWEC for 33% of essential revenue and on hotel room tax revenue increasing 61% in ten years.

f. Further, the report assumes that 50% of the operations expense will be shouldered by UWEC (Page 97).

g. With scant explanation how, an assumption that this project will create 141 new FTE’s in the surrounding business area.

h. An assumption that the tax assessment base would rise by %30 in the “projected impact area”

i. An assumption that the city would increase their property tax levy by 1%.
I could go on in the details of this report, and I offer my services to the council to go through it point by point as I believe, although it is conservative in nature, and the consultants have called out every area where they may be aggressive, such language is being overlooked by enthusiastic supporters of this project.

3) Finally, I draw your attention to the fact that the consultants recommend very strongly for a certain type of governance structure which appears to be ignored moving forward by the report’s sponsors. I find that fairly disturbing as well “Project organizers have proposed that the Board/Council would consist of seven members rather than the nine members recommended in the Plan.” – Page 2, executive summary.

In conclusion, I ask you, President Kincaid to slow this process down. To understand in detail the results of this report, its dependencies and its assumptions which unless tended to carefully, could be disastrous to this community, and the debt burden and operating budget we already carry.

I offer my professional services to evaluate this report in depth, and to facilitate a conversation with Council to ferret out the pivot points by which a decision can be made – as community service of course.

It is only through criteria that are clear to the community can such a far reaching decision by thought of as a positive outcome by all of its affected citizens. Creating an environment of sunshine on the process and of public discourse in this major change to our community seems prudent.

Respectfully submitted,

Mike Bollinger


It is regrettable that we need to look at the dream like Confluence Project through the cold facts of economics.  As taxpayers we have to do so.  The Project is projected to cost $ 88 million just to build.  Commonweal is asking the state for $55 million.  As a resident of Wisconsin, I am going to have to pay part of this.  Commonweal is asking the county for $ 5 million.  As a resident of the county, I am going to have to pay part of this.  Commonweal is asking the city for $ 10 million.  As a resident of the city, I am going to have to pay part of this.  As a taxpayer so will you.  This is only the beginning of the cost the city will be asked to contribute.  Commonweal is asking the city to commit to further yearly funds to cover a portion of the upkeep on the community theatre.  They hope to get these additional funds through room taxes collected.  But what if the room taxes do not cover this additional expense?  Where will the funds come from?  A portion of the cities initial investment ($ 10 million) they will be looking at removing the old buildings now in the way of the Project.  Considering when these buildings were built will there be issues with their removal that have to be taken into account such as lead paint, mold, asbestos, etc.  I believe there are rules involved when disposing of these types of materials. Has this been figured into the cities total amount?  The city will also be responsible for the walkway bridge and the underground parking lot plus other improvements to the property.  This all adds up.  There remain several unanswered questions.  We as taxpayers deserve to know the answers.  As WE will be paying the bill.

The old buildings on the present site of the proposed Confluence Project site are on the tax roll.  Once these buildings are removed and the Confluence Project is completed, will the dorm and the theatre be placed on the tax roll?  This will all depend on who becomes the final title holder of these buildings.  At this point we have not been told who that will be.

What if the theatre doesn’t make a profit or falls into financial need?  What will happen?  Will the taxpayers have to pitch in to help it stay in business?  How much will the ticket for the shows cost?  Will I/we be able to afford to go to a show?

These are all items that need to be considered.  I feel that we deserve answers to these questions before we commit our hard earned tax dollars to this Project.   As taxpayers let’s get out there and attend public meetings, contact your city council representatives before it’s too late.

Janice Wnukowski

President of the Eau Claire Historic Preservation Foundation

Built on Sawdust? Letter from Linda McClelland

Recently I attended an Idea Lounge meeting on the Confluence Project.  While the idea of a theatre downtown is exciting, I fail to see why we cannot utilize those buildings with historical significance into the plan as they do in other cities.  A representative of Commonweal stated that these buildings can’t be repurposed because they did not have good foundations and were “built on sawdust.”  While I realize that Eau Claire, our “SawdustCity” was important in the lumbering business, I can’t imagine anyone building on sawdust.  So, I decided to do some research.

The geology department of UWEC has done extensive mapping of the Eau Claire area.  Their maps show the foundation of Eau Claire is shale and granite.  Talk to anyone who works in the geothermal business and they will tell you how difficult it is to drill through granite.  So, where does the sawdust come in?  I talked to a woman who is a lifetime resident of Eau Claire and can remember all of the flooding in the confluence area.  She said that often sawdust was brought in because it would soak up the water and was easy to remove after it was used.

At the end of the meeting, one of the occupants of the downtown buildings in question stated that she had a survey done of her building and found the foundation was good.  Because of the lateness of the evening, there was not much response to this woman.  It would be interesting to know what her survey really stated.  It would also be interesting to know if other buildings in that area were inspected by someone who did not have an interest in destroying them.  It would be most interesting to know how, if the foundation is not good, Commonweal can build a huge theatre, a high rise student dorm and an underground parking lot on all that sawdust.

Linda McClelland

Eau Claire Historic Preservation Foundation