Posted: July 27, 2012
When I worked in the news department at a local radio station nearly 20 years ago, I remember hearing listeners complain that their voices were not being heard when units of government were making decisions about the use of tax dollars. To this day, it is very rare when someone takes the time to speak before a public body to express their concerns about budget issues, street/sidewalk repairs or other issues afffecting their property tax bill.
But this week's "Idea Lounge", which focused on the proposed $80 million Confluence Project, opened my eyes to just how much the citizens of Eau Claire care about the future of the downtown business district.
More than 100 business owners, residents and historic building lovers packed the Pizza Plus building at 208 South Barstow Street to discuss the merits and/or concerns about the proposed plans to develop a $55million community arts center and $25 million commercial building with UW-Eau Claire student housing on the upper floors.
The theme of the citizen input was that residents value the historic buildings downtown and that the developers should try to incorporate some of the existing elements of the existing facades into the new buildings. Although The Confluence is still in its conceptual phase, it is evident that a considerable number of residents want to keep something from the past as the city moves into the future.
Even though there was criticism from some who spoke at the public forum this week, nearly 90 percent showed a sign of support for the plan as presented. In other words, even though most who attended the "Idea Lounge" think the project is worthwhile, they still took time out of their evening to learn and listen to others' input about the project.
We've seen other recent instances where the public was encouraged to provide input. Over the past year, business and property owners in the downtown area relayed comments about the proposed two-way traffic that is being changed along South Barstow Street and Graham Avenue. Two weeks ago, residents who are part of the Eau Claire School District were able to ask questions and learn more about the two finalists for the superintendent position.
It appears to me that those with a vested interest in how the City of Eau Claire and its school board operates have more options to have their voices heard than ever before. For those who don't take the time to make their opinion known, they can't say it's because nobody would listen.