Downtown construction offers economic growth to Eau Claire

Andante Building, Eau Claire Transit Center and Eau Claire Children’s Museum all slated to open in 2022

Elliot Adams (He/Him)

More stories from Elliot Adams (He/Him)


Elliot Adams

The site of the Andante Building which is expected to be complete in Aug. 2022

The downtown area of Eau Claire is marked with the sight of cranes, concrete and road signs. 

New buildings are being built and old buildings are getting renovated. 

This is all part of a massive effort to revitalize downtown Eau Claire and create a better city space for the city of Eau Claire. 

Several commercial and public spaces are being built in downtown Eau Claire. These projects have been funded through federal grant programs, donations and private development groups. Much of these new projects have been encouraged by the city of Eau Claire. 

Andante Building

One of these new projects is the Andante Building that is being developed by Merge Urban Development. According to Joy Hannemann, the operations partner in Merge Urban Development, this building is primarily a residential building with additional space for commercial use on the first floor. 

According to Hannemann, the decision to utilize the Andante Building as mixed use, meaning both having commercial and residential space, stemmed from Merge Urban Development’s previous projects. 

“All of our projects have been mixed-use,” Hannemann said. “We really want an active first floor so that we can offer more to the city than just a residential building.” 

Hannemann said the site of the Andante Building, which was originally a city parking lot along Barstow Street, went through a process within the Waterway & Parks Commission, Plan Commission and the Eau Claire City Council in early 2019 to deem the site as excess land. 

Once the site was deemed as excess land, a request for proposals was started by the city of Eau Claire, according to Hannemann. Merge Urban Development then worked on a proposal to compete for development of the newly open land. 

Hannemann said that the decision to pursue this site was due to a mixture of economic factors and personal reasons. 

“I studied at UW-Eau Claire so the area means a lot to me,” Hannemann said. “I’ve been following along with the revitalization efforts and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to bring real estate to Eau Claire.” 

According to Hannemann, the site was also appealing to Merge Urban Development due to several unique characteristics of Eau Claire. 

“We love the presence of higher education in the city, the progressive city government that wants to bring new projects to the downtown area and the access to natural resources that will benefit residents,” Hannemann said. “Also, Eau Claire offers a mid-sized city lifestyle which our organization specializes in.” 

According to Hannemann, the building is slated to be open for residential use in Aug. 2022. The commercial space will be open at an undetermined date due to the process of finalizing the users that will be utilizing the commercial space is still ongoing. 

Children’s Museum of Eau Claire

Another project in Eau Claire that is currently being developed is a new building for the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. It will be located on Barstow Street across from the in-development Andante Building.

According to Mandy Runge, the chief operating officer for the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, the plans to develop the new building began a couple years ago, with the bulk of planning starting when the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Runge said that the limitations of their old building helped motivate the decision to find a new space. 

“Being located in an old Woolworth’s Department Store was beginning to show its limitations as we could no longer expand like we wanted to and add larger exhibits as we were maxed out on the available space,” Runge said. “We also had limited lighting and had very few windows which kept the space inside dimly lit.”

According to Runge, this project will bring many benefits to downtown Eau Claire, including the “revitalization of downtown, encourage more development nearby and bring in tourist dollars from families visiting.”

The development of the site has not been without setbacks though. Runge said that competing for funding with the L.E. Phillips Memorial Library expansion, the L.E. Phillips Senior Center expansion and the Sonnentag Complex have proved difficult along with rising costs of building materials due to COVID-19. 

Despite these setbacks, Runge said the building is expected to be complete by Dec. 2022.

Eau Claire Transit Center

The Eau Claire Transit Center, is a public project headed by Eau Claire Transit to create a modern space for public transportation and provide better resources for residents who utilize public transportation. 

According to Tom Wagener, Eau Claire Transit Manager, the need for a new transit center has been around since 1985 when a temporary transit center was built. 

“We had port-a-potties set up, the concrete was deteriorating and it was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act so it wasn’t accessible.” Wagener said. 

Wagener said that planning to create a new transit center started slowly in 2000, but started making serious progress around the late 2000s and early 2010s when the Obama administration created grants to help revitalize urban areas across the nation. 

These grants were highly competitive according to Wagener. 

“We hired a consultant to put the grant proposal together,” Wagener said. “The consultant had previous experience with putting together successful proposals for the TIGER grant program.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Transportation Discretionary Grant aims to provide “a unique opportunity for the U.S. DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives.” These grants have been previously known as TIGER and BUILD grants. 

The new Eau Claire Transit Center would not be possible without being awarded grant funding from the federal government according to Wagener. 

When the Eau Claire Transit Center is finished, Wagener said he is expecting more people to use public transit, reduce Eau Claire’s carbon footprint and improve the aesthetic of the downtown area. 

According to Wagener, the Eau Claire Transit Center is expected to begin service by Sep. 30, 2022.

Downtown Businesses

While the downtown construction offers new opportunities for the Eau Claire community, some business owners feel the strain that construction is creating. 

Chris Buske, owner of downtown coffee shop Wonders of Nature, said that his feelings on the construction are “conflicted.”

“It’s just been a strange time with COVID over the past two years and there’s been a lot of constraints,” Buske said. “Everything is kind of happening all at once right now, which will be nice when it’s all done, but in the meantime is quite disruptive.”

According to Buske, the main issue that affects his business is parking. 

“A major issue is finding enough adequate parking,” Buske said. “As a small business owner, it’s frustrating that we don’t have better parking options.” 

Adam Condit, co-owner of Blue Ox Running with wife Alicia, also said that limited parking has placed a strain on potential customers and employees, especially during the winter with snow constricting space.

Despite the concerns with parking, Condit said that overall he is excited for the long term effects of the Eau Claire Transit Center. 

“To me, it’s not too big of a deal because we’ve lived in a lot bigger cities where construction means a totally different thing,” Condit said. “Traffic in Eau Claire is pretty awesome with all things considered.”

According to Buske, the new Eau Claire Transit Center holds the most promise to positively impact his business. 

“I think having the newer bus transfer station is definitely a must in something that needed to be done,” Buske said. “So having a nicer transfer station and then some of the other buildings that are going to go in, I think that’ll help draw more people downtown and make it so more people use the public transportation to get downtown and shop around.”

Adams can be reached at [email protected].