Hearing focuses on future of S. Barstow and who pays for what

By: Jenny You Email
By: Jenny You Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – A public hearing was held on the future of S. Barstow St. in Eau Claire. Among business owners' concerns, uncertainties on the final design of the project and who would pay for it and continue to maintain it.

The project includes new lighting, streets and streetscape. Everything from new lighting to benches, trees, bike racks, sidewalks and even a space for pedestrians to gather was discussed.

People that spoke up at the hearing were mainly business owners on the stretch of S. Barstow that would be under reconstruction, from Lake to Eau Claire Streets.

Those business owners would pay around 40 percent of the cost to reconstruct which comes to around $1.7 million. That would be based on storefront footage, so if a business owner has around a 26 foot frontage lot, that would cost $7,500. If it’s a 53 foot frontage, it would be around $15,000.

The remainder of the project would come from taxpayer money.

Council member Andrew Werthmann says the next step is for the council to take everyone’s voices into consideration.

“The job right now is to kind of weigh up what the sentiment is from downtown businesses, their view on how this project should develop but also balancing it with what does the greater community want to see, for essentially the main street of Eau Claire, the downtown of Eau Claire.

Business owners like John Mogensen also weighed in, saying there wasn’t a cost comparison that was done to see what it would cost to have all of the streetscapes vs. having just the reconstruction of the street itself.

Business owner Lisa Aspenson says she agrees with Mogensen and that the uncertainties start to add up.

“There were never comparisons given to us,” said Aspenson. “Options on maybe different types of lighting, maybe decorative lighting to the more of a tall street lighting or options like that.”

Mogensen questioned whether some of the streetscape costs could be covered by bid board money which is an assessment business owners of downtown pay into and could be used for projects like the S. Barstow project.

“Obviously if we're going to do something nice and we want to fund it that’s going to come from looking toward downtown businesses or it’s going to be general tax payers,” said Werthmann. “So we have to bring those things together. A lot of design elements are being decided but those are the decisions that need to be made moving forward.”

Aspenson said although an atmosphere that brings people together in downtown is important, it’s not the physical appeal that does that.

“I don’t think just putting bricks and light brings people to downtown, it’s who’s there, how you get along, how you brand everything and what events you do,” said Aspenson.

The city council is voting on whether to move the bidding process forward Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. The city says there are still two more design committee meetings where business owners can discuss the elements involved in the plans.

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