Posted: October 19, 2007
I have a soft spot for downtown Eau Claire. I have leased an office in the heart of downtown for about 15 years and have enjoyed being a part of the potential redevelopment of the central business district. Having said that, I am a bit frustrated by the city's inability to finalize an agreement to redevelop the North Barstow Street area. Like many of us who travel through downtown Eau Claire, I see the same piles of dirt that have remained mostly stagnant for much of the past few months.
The city has spent a lot of money to upgrade the infrastructure to accommodate the Michael Lander and Geoff Moeding proposal so that Phoenix Parkside, LLC, could exclusively renovate about a three-block area that has been blighted property for years. Prior to making utility and road improvements, the city accessed federal funds to acquire antiquated residential and commercial buildings within the designated area.
I realize that major economic development projects take time, especially when a government entity is involved. However, I also understand that private developers often talk about their achievements before they have all of their ducks in a row. In addition, City of Eau Claire Economic Development Specialist Mike Schatz was quick to point out to me that the city would be spending money to provide the infrastructure improvements in the distressed area regardless of whether the Lander-Moeding plan moved forward.
The City of Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority (RDA) this week declined to give the Lander-Moeding group another extension to come up with the necessary financing to proceed with their grandiose plan for downtown. While I do not disagree with the RDA's decision, it is imperative that the city moves forward with the project by entertaining other proposals from developers who may want to tackle only a portion of the entire plan. I am guessing that economic development officials have other options to attract downtown development at a faster pace. In fact, I hope for taxpayers' sake that we will learn about new revitalization plans come this spring.
I really hope the Lander-Moeding plan comes to fruition. If not, I give those developers credit for attempting to do something bold that would reinvigorate downtown Eau Claire. In the mean time, I have a gut feeling that city officials know something that we don't so that the project can move forward sooner, rather than later. If I am wrong, then we could be looking at those piles of dirt for a long time.