Something is Happening

Eau Claire seems to be on the cusp of a whole new era of growth

Nick Meyer

The amount of energy bubbling in this community right now is enormous. Something is happening. It feels different. And I think it’s possible Eau Claire is about to go for one hell of a ride.

If you’ve been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the news and happenings of our community lately, you’ve likely heard about any number of major downtown initiatives – vision plans, street reconstruction, developments, greenway ideas, etc.  You can’t take a day off from the news (or skip an issue of V1!) without missing a genuinely exciting project or concept that a group of dedicated citizens are working to make a reality right now.

The list is long. More new buildings are going up in Phoenix Park. Barstow, Graham, and Eau Claire Streets are getting a major makeover soon. The Phoenix Community Gardens are expanding and adding a pavilion and new features. UW-Eau Claire is finishing a major new student center. There will be an Artist Market twice a month at the Farmers’ Market (along with a new permanent parking lot across Madison Street). The West Bank redevelopment area has an ambitious long-range development vision. The Parks and Waterways Commission has some big plans for our riverfronts. There’s been momentum on discussions about a large events/convention center. The Chippewa Valley Theater Guild is planning an outdoor, river-backed theater space near Grand Avenue. And downtown business groups just put forth a massive vision for a greatly enriched Riverfront District. I assure you, this list is really just the tip of the iceberg. 

 Across the entire town, I’m not sure if it’s ever been so clear that so many people, ideas, and organizations are pointed in the right directions at the right times. Ladies and gentlemen, we have lift off.

And the latest announcement isn’t just a vision either. It’s an actual project with backing partners and a significant likelihood for reality. Just this week it was announced UW-Eau Claire is partnering with local companies Commonweal Development and Market & Johnson, along with the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, for a new $85 million arts center and mixed-use housing/retail/restaurant facility. Right on the south side of the confluence, flanked to the West and North by our two beautiful rivers. READ: This is a big deal. (More details here).

With so much brewing here already, when you add this latest announcement of a very real and mind-boggling public/private partnership, our community is flush with amazing possibilities and the energy to make them happen. Some of these things will happen quickly, others might take several more years to achieve. But across the entire town, I’m not sure if it’s ever been so clear that so many people, ideas, and organizations are pointed in the right directions at the right times. Ladies and gentlemen, we have lift off.

Of course, significant community visions can often produce significant public skepticism, with some people complaining such big ideas and plans are simply unattainable, or that the money will never materialize. I’m sure the same sorts of people were lining up just ten years ago to say the vision for a beautiful park at the confluence of our rivers – a park brimming with concerts, festivals, and a bustling farmers market – could never happen either. They said we already had Carson Park. And they said the private money to help do it would never be there. To them, it would also have been laughable to suggest public investment in that park could attract millions in new private development right across the street. 

This and the other lessons we’ve learned these last several years have created a paradigm shift in Eau Claire. Big things can and will happen. Public/private partnerships are really possible. Investing in our community’s quality of life does pay off economically. Our list of accomplishments over the past ten years is long (see some here), and those achievements have set the stage for everything that comes next. So here we are today, rapidly building a community that loves the place it lives – and it’s clear outsiders love it too, as tourism numbers continue to rise and people take notice of what’s happening in our neck of the woods.

So breathe it in this summer, folks. Pay attention to all these plans. Voice your support for the ideas you want, and be there when you’re needed to take action and offer input. With more than ten years of real progress behind us and a very bright decade ahead, this whole downtown revitalization thing has never been stronger. We’re going to do this. Together.

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