Confluence Project Supporters
Posted: April 4, 2014
Supporters of the proposed Confluence Project were elated this past week after voters in the City of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County approved their respective referendums in favor of allowing the $77.2 million plan to move forward. Although the UW Board of Regents must still approve the requested $25 million in funding in August and the Legislature and Governor Walker must sign on the dotted line, it appears the first major hurdle has been cleared.
The Confluence Project, a public/private partnership with Haymarket Concepts, LLC, UW-Eau Claire, the City of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County, still needs two-thirds of the required $15 million in philanthropic donations. The City of Eau Claire has pledged $5 million and Eau Claire County voters approved the county board's offer of $3.5 million.
During the campaign process by both the opponents and supporters of the Confluence, a few things stuck out to me.
First, the ability to have the government sector, the university and private business design a plan that was approved by voters was somewhat amazing. Although UW-Eau Claire utilizes Carson Park and the Hobbs Ice Arena in a shared agreement, at no other time can I remember UWEC and the city working together on a project of this magnitude.
Second, it was gratifying to see so many older residents cast their ballots in favor of the Confluence moving forward. I had many discussions with some retirees who did not see the benefit of spending more property tax dollars on something that they may not use. Many times, I heard the mantra, "Well, if this doesn't get approved, UWEC is going to build their own performing arts center ". While that may be true, the ability to have a facility that can be used by the university and the public benefits more people for less money.
Lastly, it was very cool to see how many university students got involved in the voting process. UWEC Student Senate President Jake Wrasse said 300 students registered to vote for the first time and there was a more than 200 percent higher turnout compared to any other election.
Despite vehement opposition from Voters with Facts, the discussion about the Confluence was rather subdued. I think part of the reason why there was less vitriol than the public is used to was because the supporters of the Confluence Project included business people, arts lovers, students, liberals and conservatives.
It's not very often that an issue involving taxpayer dollars has the support of all of those groups at one time.