The Confluence Project
Posted: May 18, 2012
I visited LaCrosse on a fairly regular basis 20 years ago. From the first time I spent an evening in the downtown area, I was impressed by that city's progressive approach to tourism and hospitality, with its riverfront walkways and thriving central business and entertainment district. I wondered, along with many other Chippewa Valley natives, why downtown Eau Claire could not produce a similar sensation.
Now, two decades later, a group of individuals representing business, academia and government have collaborated to devise a plan that appears to be on the cutting edge for Eau Claire. The presentation this week by Clear Vision Eau Claire that outlined the nearly $100 million Confluence Project could be the catalyst that future generations will assimilate with Eau Claire - a city that produces and fosters the arts.
Much of the credit for assisting with the potential Confluence Project should be given to the current overseers of the prime riverfront real estate owned by Reinhart Companies.The Farmers Store and Market Square buildings along Graham Avenue have been owned by Reinhart Real Estate Group for years, but were never for sale - until just recently.
Ironically, D.B. Reinhart, founder of LaCrosse-based Gateway Foods, was the "white knight " that helped the City of LaCrosse with its riverfront development 30 years ago. If Reinhart didn't invest in and develop The Radisson Hotel and the LaCrosse Civic Center, that city may never have had the financial ability to reinvigorate its downtown and expose its riverfront to tourism opportunities.
The proposed performance arts center, along with the 260,000-square-foot, six-story complex that will feature retail on the first floor and apartment-style housing for UW-Eau Claire students on the upper levels, is sure to have its detractors. Others with negative attitudes will declare that "It's about time" something is being done to make a substanitial change to improve the city's downtown.
Those with a more positive vision for the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers will spend more time and effort to move the project forward in a fiscally responsible manner. The city, county and state will all need to contribute funding, along with developers and private donors to make The Confluence Project a reality.
Although there is a lot of work to be done, the foundation has been laid to launch a project that could be a precursor to many more opportunities to revolutionize downtown Eau Claire. D.B. Reinhart would have been proud to know that his legacy of revitalizing a downtown riverfront may be spreading its wings to another Wisconsin city.