, ,

Heated Referendum Battle Brews Over Proposed Eau Claire Arts Center

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

By
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.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“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.

Today only! WPR Bucket Hat. $15/month. Donate Now.