Citizens Referendum Committee letter:
October 14, 2013
President - City Council
City Of Eau Claire
203 South Farwell Street
Eau Claire, WI 54701
Dear President Kincaid:
We are writing to ask you to place a resolution on the October 22, 2013 City Council
agenda for a council formal vote. This resolution would be to set a binding referendum
on the spring 2014 ballot to approve or deny city funding for the project currently known
as “The Confluence Project”.
It is our position that a decision of this magnitude should be left to the voting populace.
- A voice in favor of this would spur the other interested parties to invest given
the binding vote by Eau Claire citizens.
- A voice not in favor of this would be a signal to the Council that the project is
not something that is an imperative.
Of course, the nature of the language of the referendum would be at the discretion of the
council should there be an aye vote to this resolution. Otherwise, such language would
be developed by our committee.
CC: Russell Van Gompel
For further information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- More than a year since the project was first announced, a new group has put in a formal request regarding a referendum on the Confluence Project.
The Confluence Referendum Committee held a news conference Monday on the steps of City Hall and submitted a formal letter to city manager Russ Van Gompel for a city-wide, binding referendum on the Confluence Project. The group is made up of former councilman Larry Balow, local business woman Judy Olson and local business man and former School Board Commissioner Mike Bollinger.
The letter states: “This resolution would be to set a binding referendum on the spring 2014 ballot to approve or deny city funding for the project currently known as “the Confluence Project.””
The letter is submitted before a previous letter written by Bollinger. His original letter was sent in June 2013, asking the city council specific questions regarding the Confluence Project. He said he felt his questions were ignored.
Although, council president Kerry Kincaid said his questions were discussed during council meetings and are among questions answered in the FAQ section of the Community for the Confluence website (see below).
Bollinger said the referendum is a fair chance for the community to express their support or opposition to what could be one of the biggest changes in the city of Eau Claire’s history.
Bollinger said the group is neither for nor against the Confluence Project.
“When you feel disenfranchised as citizens, and we all do, then it’s time to stand up its time to make a stand,” said Bollinger. “At this point, we're talking about a project with tremendous magnitude and an ongoing operation expense to the general fund.”
The proposed project planned for downtown includes a community arts center, a mixed-use building that includes student housing, and a public space at the current Haymarket parking lot.
The cost: $77.2 million with $13.5 million from the city, and a continuing commitment of $200,000 dollars a year in Eau Claire’s hotel room taxes that would go towards operation costs. Funding would also come from the county and the state.
“You're asking for the commitment on part of the private sector. You're asking for ideas, you're asking for funding commitment on part of the state and you’re asking for a continuing commitment through a tax increment district as well as an operational backstop from the hotel sales tax from the city,” argued Bollinger.
Lifetime resident Susan Kaul said she supports the referendum.
“People like to know what’s going on and want to know the numbers and what’s going to happen if it happens,” said Kaul.
Council president Kincaid said although she likes to see democracy at work, a binding referendum isn't the right answer.
“In my opinion, this is a mean spirited move because it’s taking a complicated and exciting point in our city and pulling it down to a question that doesn’t reflect all of the input that we still seek and we've been working so hard to pull out of people,” said Kincaid.
Kincaid said the question itself on a ballot could be confusing as well. She said it’s better to allow the process to wind slowly and deliberately in order to answer complicated questions that people might have on the confluence project.
“Which is exactly what the city council has been doing; numerous public discussions, in meeting with local arts groups to ask about the input of the project in our local arts community, in meeting with the developer and asking about the proposed financial contributions,” said Kincaid.
The next step is to determine whether the state has a commitment to the Confluence Project and if it's going to fund it. Kincaid said the city will be meeting with the state and asking them to show their commitment so that the council can move onto answering questions about what the community’s responsibility will be, given the state’s input.
Project backers at UW-Eau Claire and at the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center said they've made sure answers are available to the public.
“I think we've done a very good job in the course of the last year and a half when this project was first announced of holding a number of public hearings, public meetings and putting a lot of information out on websites so people do have a good understanding of the project,” said assistant chancellor at UW-Eau Claire Mike Rindo.
A year ago, the UW-Systems Board of Regents unanimously endorsed the concept of the Confluence Project as well as the university’s involvement with it.
Rindo said if for some reason the Confluence Project did not go forward, the university would still have to ensure that it has the facilities needed for its Fine Arts program.
“All of those things (discussions) have been very much transparent since the early part of the process and so we need to keep in mind there has been a great deal of public discussion involving this project,” said Rindo.
Ben Richgruber, the executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center said the Confluence Project has been very public from the start, dating back to five years ago. That’s when the Clear Vision process began, engaging hundreds of people in the community.
“That evolved into a Clear Vision Facilities Committee. That took that even further and looked at the specifics; art center, conference and convention center, major event center. Again, many public hearings about that and the Confluence Project came of that,” said Richgruber. “It also fits the Downtown Redevelopment Plan, the university’s Master Plan. So this is a project that has grown out of public input and public comment.”
Kincaid said the Confluence Referendum Committee and the city council can work together.
“We can help with that by going forward along a path of answering more and more questions, so as we're working our way slowly, deliberately, honestly and practically. We'll keep doing that and they can use those answers in that discussion as they're forming the referendum questions. So I see the work of the council and the work of this referendum committee, should they go forward, going on parallel paths,” said Kincaid.
If the referendum proposal makes it onto the agenda and the city council still votes against the idea, then Bollinger said his committee would host a grassroots effort and gather the more than 3,600 votes needed to force a referendum onto the spring ballot.
A group called the Community for the Confluence Project is asking people to not sign the petition should a grassroots effort happen.
A letter requesting a city-wide, binding referendum on the Confluence Project was submitted to the City of Eau Claire on Monday.
The Confluence Referendum Committee held a news conference on Monday. At the news conference, the committee tried to give its letter to Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid, but she refused to accept it. The committee then submitted it to Eau Claire City Manager Russ Van Gompel.
It's still unclear when the committee will begin gathering signatures that it needs to get the referendum on the ballot in the 2014 Spring Election. One of its three members says in a statement that it believes people living in the community should have an opportunity to vote for the future of downtown Eau Claire. It goes on to say that the committee is ready to gather the signatures to make sure it happens even if the city council believes people living in Eau Claire can't make the decision for themselves.
The committee announced its plan last week. You can find out more by clicking the related story below, and by watching for Jenny You's report tonight on WEAU 13 News at 5.