Bright Lights, Big City: Technicolor light display to cover two more bridges

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

LIGHT THE NIGHT. Programmable LED lights, like those on the Phoenix Park bridge, above, will soon be part of the Grand Avenue and Confluence bridges.
LIGHT THE NIGHT. Programmable LED lights, like those on the Phoenix Park bridge, above, will soon be part of the Grand Avenue and Confluence bridges.

Construction is in the works for two new downtown Eau Claire artistic lighting projects, and one more is in the planning stages. The Grand Avenue bridge resurfacing project included a lighting addition similar to that of the Phoenix Park Bridge, funded in part by contributions from local philanthropists and businesses. The new Confluence bridge, which will connect Phoenix Park to Haymarket Plaza, will feature lights on the arched supports, similar to that of Lowry Bridge in Minneapolis. City planners are discussing the addition of matching lights to the Confluence Plaza wall, although the implementation of such will depend on how the numbers fall as the construction of the Pablo Center nears its end.

“It is intended to be a seamless lighting effort in downtown, going from the original Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge through to the new ones,” City Engineer Dave Solberg said. “We’re one downtown, we’re one theme, and we wanted to have it coordinated as such.”

The coordination of the Phoenix Park bridge lights has been a collaborative project of Downtown Eau Claire, Inc., the Rotary Club of Eau Claire, UW-Eau Claire,  and the City of Eau Claire since October of last year. Meetings are being held to determine how the old and new lighting projects will be managed.

Public reaction to the vibrant, colorful displays has been positive. “We’ve overwhelmingly got more excitement about the expanded possibilities,” Solberg said.

While the addition of lights to the Phoenix Park Bridge cost about $400,000, which was raised in a donation campaign, the bridge lighting features on the Grand Avenue and Confluence bridges cost about $125,000 and $100,000 respectively. Installing the lights during construction – as opposed to retrofitting an existing bridge as was done with the first project – saved time and money.

“If we plan ahead of time, we can to it for as much as a third of the cost,” Solberg said. The city’s Engineering Department will keep this in mind as it encounters future wall and bridge construction contracts, potentially expanding the effect throughout the city.

The Confluence and Grand Avenue bridge lights are projected to be completed sometime in September, near the grand opening of the Pablo Center.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of outreach and working with stakeholders in downtown,” Solberg said of recent downtown development, including the light display projects. “It was a long process to get to this point, but we’re very pleased with the product.”


The original article attributed the Phoenix Park bridge lighting to UW-Eau Claire students.  It has been updated to reflect that the project is a collaborative effort between the city, the Rotary Club of Eau Claire, UW-Eau Claire, and Downtown Eu Claire, Inc.

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