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Heated Referendum Battle Brews Over Proposed Eau Claire Arts Center

Two Groups Campaign For And Against $5 Million City Contribution To Confluence Project

Image courtesy of Commonweal Development.

What started as a discussion about a possible performing arts center in Eau Claire has turned into a referendum with two major campaigns trying to sway voters.

The Confluence Project is a proposed $85 million arts center that would include dorms and classroom space for University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students, as well as a public plaza. Businesses, city and university officials have been talking about it since 2012, but after a citizens group got enough signatures to put the issue on the April ballot, two very organized and politically active camps have emerged.

Dave Wood is a spokesman for the group Voters with Facts. He says they oppose the city spending nearly $11 million for the arts center and dorm, along with another $10-11 million on nearby public infrastructure projects.

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“There should be a referendum where the voters get to decide whether we’re going to be supporting it to that high of a level,” Woods said. “So, I’m opposed to that and I would say that everyone in our group is opposed to that kind of property tax funding.”

On the other side is Community for the Confluence, a group formed to get the project the through the referendum. Along with its website and Youtube channel, the group is using text message reminders and a voter registration drive.

Catherine Emanuel, a volunteer with the group and an Eau Claire city councilwoman, said this is a full-on campaign to stop opponents from derailing the confluence.

“This is basically the only option left for a group of citizens to retroactively undo a modest pledge from the city of Eau Claire to pledge a small percentile of the overall cost towards the project,” Emanuel said.

The April 1 referendums will ask county voters whether they support spending $3.5 million for the project, and will ask city voters whether there should be a referendum for any taxpayer-funded arts project over $1 million.

Updated: The information about the group “Voters With Facts” has been updated since the article was published online.

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