It takes a lot of people and groups to create a vibrant downtown. You need physical spaces for events and buildings, developers to make the best of those spaces, entrepreneurs to create businesses, programming for recreational use, and people excited to live, work, and play there. Short of these things magically lining up on their own, you also need people to envision this big picture and try to get those ducks in a row. And in many ways, that’s who these guys are.
Mike Schatz is the economic development director for the City of Eau Claire, and has been since 1985. He’s also the executive director of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., an organization whose sole purpose is to promote downtown. (Fun fact: DECI also celebrates its 10th birthday this year!) He’s a major force in redevelopment and entrepreneurship in our city’s center.
Jayson Smith, meanwhile, has been a city planner for the City of Chippewa Falls since 1981. He’s been a major facilitator in their changes downtown, most notably the work he’s done to prepare for the upcoming downtown entrance park, as well as developments like Leinie’s Lodge, Korgers, and NorthRidge Center.
Chuck Stokke was mayor of Menomonie from 1986 to 1998, and has been active with groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Momentum 21. Early in his tenure he was a major proponent of becoming part of the state Main Street program and rejuvenating their downtown. So much so that, when the state program turned them away, downtown merchants, property owners, and community leaders like Stokke, Jerry Talen, Mary Solberg, and Liz Lammer helped form a self-initiated Main Street – one that is still active today.
All three are fully embedded in the larger trend of re-embracing our downtowns, and their efforts in redevelopment, planning, and promotion have led to increased interest in private and aesthetic investments as well as drops in vacancy rates. “I think we’re very much on the right track, we’ve had some success, and there’s still boundless opportunities to keep going with this,” Schatz said.