Events Center Forum: the ball is rolling

Thom Fountain

A full house at the RCU Headquarters for the Clear Vision Community Event Forum
A full house at the RCU Headquarters for the Clear Vision Community Event Forum.

There was a full house Thursday night at the RCU Headquarters for the first public discussion of a new events center here in Eau Claire. The forum was led by a panel from clear vision including Mike Rindo from UW-Eau Claire, Linda John from Visit Eau Claire and Ben Richgrueber from the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

The discussion was broadcasted live by Wisconsin Public Radio and we hosted a live online discussion for those who couldn't make it. There was a lot of ideas and opinions being thrown around, but those present seemed overwhelmingly supportive.

I'll run down some of the main points here and you can listen to an archive of the two-hour meeting at WPR's site later today (Friday):

  • The presentation started with some background from Clear Vision, including a brief history of the issue (which has been on the table for over 40 years) and an overview of some public opinion polling done by Clear Vision in the last year.
  • The necessity for a new large-scale center dominated the beginning of the discussion, with each panelist discussing how they're organizations have been passed over by opportunities because the city didn't have the facilities. One major takeaway was Linda John, who said Visit Eau Claire has collected a list of the events who contacted them but had to be turned away over the last ten years. The list now consists of tens of millions of dollars in tourism dollars.
  • The other large debate was the purpose of the building. Some said the center should focus on the arts in order to expand our already strong community, while others said a convention center would bring much more economy to the area.
  • Dr. Sean Hartnett, a professor of geography at UW-Eau Claire, prompted a discussion on the unique aspects of Eau Claire. Hartnett said we need to make the building something that could only exist here and is a memorable space in itself.

This is only a sampling of the discussions had Thursday, so I'd encourage you to give the whole thing a listen this afternoon.

There will be another public forum April 25 similar in format. Linda John mentioned that at this meeting there would also be a presentation on some comparable communities who have built event centers, both with positive and negative outcomes.

In the meantime, you can still comment on our Event Center page to keep the conversation going. Please do.

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