Posted: October 25, 2013
This week's action by the Eau Claire City Council will send a message to the State of Wisconsin, the Eau Claire County Board and others who are contemplating whether to invest in the proposed $77.2 million Confluence Project that the issue should at least be given serious consideration.
However, despite the council's passage of a resolution to pledge $5 million towards the project, with a number of stipulations, there is no doubt that support for this exciting project is losing steam. Efforts by a group of citizens to gather the necessary signatures to force a binding referendum question to appear on the April 1st ballot is gaining traction and others who want to preserve the historic value of aging downtown structures are doing their best to derail the Confluence Project's demolition plans.
First of all, I believe that a referendum of any sort would be very detrimental to the Confluence Project. I strongly support taxpayer input but I am confident that the city council has a grasp of what their constitutents want or don't want. I am not so sure that a referendum will be worded so that the outcome would be fair. Nor do I believe that many of the potential users of the Confluence would be able to cast their ballot and make their opinion count.
What was clear to me after attending this week's city council meeting is that there is a trio of council members who appear to be strongly opposed to the Confluence Project. Or, if Council Members Monica Lewis, Dave Strobel and Bob Von Haden aren't against the Confluence, then they are definitely very supportive of the Confluence Referendum Committee getting a binding referendum question on the spring ballot.
The next step for the Confluence Project developers is to sell the plan to the Eau Claire County Board. I've gone on record in this editorial that the county board is not likely to approve the $5 million request from the developers unless the project's planners are able to sway a significant number of supervisors who represent rural Eau Claire County.
In the meantime, the State of Wisconsin is surely keeping an eye on what local units of government think of the Confluence Project. And everyone will be watching how many dollars are raised through charitable donations and philanthropic efforts. The private sector's support, or lack thereof, could be the most telling sign whether the Confluence Project ever comes to fruition.
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