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Going National

Eau Claire is aiming to be named one of America’s best cities

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

The success of the revitalization of the Phoenix Park area was a key part of Eau Claire’s All-America City application.
The success of the revitalization of the Phoenix Park area was a key part
of Eau Claire’s All-America City application.

On the gridiron or any other field of athletic competition, All-Americans are the elite. These players have been recognized as possessing qualities that put them ahead of their peers, making them champions to be admired – even envied – across the nation.

The same, it seems, goes for cities: The National Civic League’s All-America City Awards are given every year to a super-select group of 10 municipalities who have demonstrated “innovation, inclusiveness, civic engagement, and cross-sector collaboration” in the face of  local challenges. To put it another way, these are the Johnny Footballs of the civic sector.

This year, Eau Claire could be one of them. In April, the city was named among 25 finalists for the All-American City Awards, and in mid-June a 21-member delegation from Eau Claire will travel to Denver to convince a jury of civic experts that our fair city belongs in the Top 10.

“Being a finalist is great, and it’s something that says Eau Claire is a great community and a great place to be, but being an award-winner would be the ultimate icing on the cake,” says City Manager Russ Van Gompel. “I think it helps in our promotional efforts in terms of economic development.” Winning the award can also help build civic engagement and increase civic pride.

The city has considered pursuing the award in the past, but the application process is challenging and time-consuming, Van Gompel says. This year, the city sought the help of Leadership Eau Claire, a leadership skill-building program of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce. An eight-member Leadership Eau Claire team worked with the city, the Chamber, and other community groups to apply.

Leadership Eau Claire participant Julie McFadden, a grant manager at Chippewa Valley Technical College, said she and the others were pleased to hear their application had made the city a finalist. “Then all of a sudden everybody got really terrified,” she says. “We said, ‘We did it. Now what?’ ” The trepidation among these business professionals has to do with the 10-minute presentation they must give in Denver. Other than two wireless microphones and a boom box, it must be analog: no PowerPoint presentations or videos. Thus, the presentations lend themselves to old-fashioned theatricality: Last year, the folks from Peoria, Ill., brought a marching band and a Rod Stewart impersonator. Eau Claire’s entry, which is still under construction, won’t be that elaborate, McFadden says, but it will include help from 12 members of Visit Eau Claire’s Fun Patrol who will help rev up the crowd. It will also including pull-up banners featuring photos from the city’s past and present.

Of course, Eau Claire’s chances of success will be about substance, not just style. According to the All-American City Awards website, applicants are “asked to describe (their) community’s three best projects that have resulted in significant local impact within the past five years” – everything from forming natural disaster plans to boosting third-graders’ reading scores. This year a special emphasis was put on efforts aimed at improving community health. Considering Eau Claire recently went through the process of adding a health chapter to its comprehensive plan, the latter criteria seemed tailor-made for the city. Eau Claire’s application addressed the recent focus on public health, the efforts to redevelop the North Barstow/Phoenix Park neighborhood, and the Clear Vision process, a multifaceted civic engagement effort involving numerous community groups.

Other All-America City nominees this year include Montgomery, Ala.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Marquette, Mich.; Providence, R.I.; and Yakima, Wash. Only time – and a slick presentation from Eau Claire’s delegation – will determine if the city will rise from among this elite group to achieve the title of All-American.

To learn more about the All-America City Awards, visit www.allamericacityaward.com.