Developers and citizens weigh in after Confluence Project vote - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Developers and citizens weigh in after Confluence Project vote


Eau Claire (WQOW) - A day after a vote of support from the city council, Confluence Project developers say they've still got a lot of work to do.

Tuesday night the Eau Claire City Council approved a $5 million pledge for the community arts center, on a vote of 8-to-3.  But it came with some big "ifs".  There is long list of conditions, including things like the state kicking in $25 million, a $20 million philanthropy goal, which would be offset by $5 million, if the county kicks in.  Developers have been hoping for a commitment from the county since the beginning. 

Developers say the city's pledge will allow them to start those discussions. "We need to be better at making sure people understand what this project is because it's a good project and its merits will sell itself. It's a risk/reward thing and we haven't done a good enough job of articulating what the upsides of the project are, nor have we done a good enough job of defining the risks, which we feel are pretty minimal," says project developer Dan Clumpner.

The pledge comes with no mention of a referendum.  A council member offered an amendment to make the city's pledge contingent upon the results of a referendum.... But that motion failed. That isn't stopping some community members from trying to get the project on the ballot.

A citizen group plans to collect the 3,600 signatures required to force an April referendum.  

Tuesday night Eau Claire's city attorney said, in his legal opinion, the council's decision to pledge money to the project would trump a referendum. Steve Nick said, according to state law, the question cannot be in conflict with any decision the council has already made. His office would need to review the referendum question, and they'll be on the lookout for anything that conflicts with prior council action, such as the $5 million pledge. 

Some citizens say they aren't letting that opinion stop them. "When my daughter and I left outside of the chambers last night, she said, "Well mom what are we going to do?" And I said,  what we're going to do is join the people who are going to collect signatures for the referendum and we're going to let people know what's really going on," says Eau Claire resident, Christine Webster

WQOW News 18 spoke with Mike Bollinger Wednesday, the head of the citizen committee group. He says they're working with legal counsel to make the language of the referendum question bulletproof. The group won't start collecting signatures until the referendum question has been crafted.

Tuesday night, the city council also left the door open to create its own referendum. The council voted to postpone a discussion about that topic for two weeks.

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