Posted: January 23, 2015
I was at my physical therapy (PT) session this week when my PT started asking me questions about what is going on in the local economy. Since she had grown up in the LaCrosse area, she was mostly intrigued about what is happening in downtown Eau Claire. She told me that she and her husband like to go downtown to eat out and take part in watching local entertainment - must like they did when they lived in Onalaska.
I started with this week's big story about the $16 million renovation of the former Ramada Inn in downtown Eau Claire. Zach Halmstad of JAMF Software announced plans for a major overhaul of the future Lismore Hotel, a Hilton product under the DoubleTree brand. His enthusiasm and professional approach to making the one-time eyesore into a luxury hotel property is exciting.
The revamped hotel will have an all-new interior and exterior. It will have Event Halls that will open later this year that are capable of attracting large groups to the downtown business district and it will feature a second-floor restaurant and bar with outdoor seating and a first-level coffee shop. Both will be managed by the Vajgrts, who formerly owned and operated The Creamery in Downsville.
My physical therapist asked me about what is the latest with the Confluence Project. I told her that work has already begun on the $25 million Haymarket Landing, a mixed-use, six-story facility that will feature three restaurants with outdoor seating on the main floor and five stories of upscale apartments.
Of course, until the State of Wisconsin determines whether the local non-profit ownership group receives a $25 million non-state agency grant to assist with funding the Performing Arts Center, we don't know the status of the Confluence Project in its entirety.
We both agreed that a parking ramp is needed in the space where the downtown post office facility currently sits. That project will be voted on by the Eau Claire City Council in March. Then, if all goes well, developers will outline their plans for Block 7, a space currently occupied by surface parking along North Barstow Street.
There is no question that downtown Eau Claire is not going to look like it did just five years ago. Unlike LaCrosse, though, we are only about 30 years behind schedule. But that's o.k., because the alternative is to let downtown continue to be a blighted area. That is something that would also continue to drain property taxpayers in other parts of the city and county.