Voters reject city referendum, approve county referendum; Confluence Project to move forward

By: Nikki Junewicz and Mike Lopez Email
By: Nikki Junewicz and Mike Lopez Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Voters made two decisions Tuesday that will help the proposed Confluence Project move forward.

City of Eau Claire voters voted against requiring a referendum every time the city wants to spend $1 million or more on a building project involving the arts. Eau Claire County voters said "yes" to spending $3.5 million on the Confluence Project.

Backers of the proposed complex with a performing arts center, housing and commercial space are planning a press conference for 1 p.m. Wednesday.

With 60 out of 60 Eau Claire city precincts reporting, 8,095 voters said "no" to requiring a referendum. 5,584 voters cast ballots of "yes." The decision was, in effect, to allow city council members to decide how to best spend city funds in those situations.

In Eau Claire County, the vote was on whether the county should spend $3.5 million to help build the Confluence Project. With all 77 precincts reporting, the "yes" votes stand at 11, 579. 9,778 people voted "no."

Voices for Growth hosted a watch party at the Volume One headquarters. By the end of the night, a winning campaign was clear.

Nearly a hundred people were there, with all eyes on the TV screen.

Ben Richgruber is the Executive Director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council. He said the group was cautiously optimistic as the results of the referendums were tallied and all of their hard work paid off.

"It's a very exciting time, we felt this was a strong project and we really felt that we had community support and this really just proves that. So it's time to take this to the next step," said Richgruber. "Locally we need to get the philanthropic dollars raised to get those donations in so when it comes to time for the state of Wisconsin to step up and be a part of this project they know we're on board locally."

Voices for Growth said its hosting a news conference Wednesday afternoon with many of its key players and leaders who support the Confluence Project.

We spoke with Eau Claire City Council member Bob Von Haden. He's in "Voters with Facts." It's a group that's been pushing to have the Confluence Project decided by voters. He was at the courthouse Tuesday evening as the votes were being tallied.

Win or lose, Von Haden says he accomplished what he wanted: to educate the public and give them the option to have a voice in the Confluence Project.

"We have accomplished a lot making more people aware of the project, so, as we go forward, we have all these other conditions that we will be better able to form questions so that as the Confluence Project moves forward it will be sucessful," says Von Haden.

Von Haden says the next step is to continue to encourage people to ask questions and stay involved with the city and county government process.

The two candidates for Eau Claire City Council President have talked about their opposing views on the Confluence Project during the campaign.

While City Council Member Monica Lewis has shown concern about the ownership of the complex.

Incumbent City Council Presdent Kerry Kincaid has said it would bring pride to the city.

Kincaid won re-election Eau Claire City Council President, her third term in a row.

Kincaid hosted an election results watch party in downtown Eau Claire, where spirits were high. Kincaid also said she was pleased with the early results on the Confluence Project referendums, and is looking forward to continuing discussions on the project.

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