Right Now, Outside My Window

New thinking has brought new life to Eau Claire. Now let's follow through.

by Nick Meyer

Right now, while standing at my office window, I can see five major construction projects underway in downtown Eau Claire – the Confluence Project, the Lismore Hotel, the North Barstow Parking Ramp, the rehab of the Green Tree Inn, and the newly started Huebsch building renovation. That all means at least three new restaurants and bars, more than half a dozen new retail spaces, a new coffee shop, nearly 150 new hotel rooms, more than 125 new apartments, and 770 new parking spaces. Not to mention new jobs, increased tax revenue, and a big, blue sky of spin-off economic development. For downtown Eau Claire, this is a tidal wave of development and construction. The sounds of hammers, trucks, and cranes are a constant soundtrack, right outside my window – and it’s music to my ears.

What brought us to this point is hard to nail down – a mix of economics, entrepreneurship, city leadership, timing, and most importantly, a substantial shift in how this community views itself. I’m confident in saying a new way of thinking has taken hold. The era of “you can’t do that here” feels dead and gone, while a new culture of “we must do this now, and together” has taken its place. Every one of the projects I mentioned above was at one point believed (by many) to be impossible. “Eau Claire isn’t ready for that.” “Nobody goes downtown, anyway.” “Great idea, but it will never work.” These projects were too hard, too expensive, and/or too out there. We were too negative, too unorganized, or too short on vision to simply believe in our community, and thus, invest in it.

Not anymore.

Before some of you roll your eyes, I know – these projects haven’t had the chance to prove themselves successful. They haven’t even opened. But right now? Right now that doesn’t matter. Because they’ve already climbed up and over the worst obstacle, the one blocking the paths of so many great ideas before them: Fear. Fear of change. Fear of ridicule. Fear of failure. No, these new projects weren’t shelved due to feasibility or economic concerns, and they weren’t shot down in City Council chambers or derailed by a lack of community support. Each of these projects (and many others I can’t see from my office window, like this, this, and this) are evidence of a new courage found in this community. They’re evidence of a tipping point.

Despite the excitement swirling around these developments, some major questions remain. How much farther can we take this? Who will step up next to further build the momentum? And if all this is really what we want for our community, will we all do our part to make these efforts successful once the paint dries?

However. Despite the excitement swirling around these developments, some major questions remain. How much farther can we take this? Who will step up next to further build the momentum? And if all this is really what we want for our community, will we all do our part to make these efforts successful once the paint dries?

“Doing your part” can mean a litany of different things. Donating to the Confluence, supporting a new business, or heck, maybe even starting your own. But as I outlined above, the most critical thing you can do right now is to engage in this new culture. Pay attention. Talk to your friends about what’s happening. Believe in and speak about our community’s current and coming success. Encourage people to plant and grow roots here, to invest their time, energy, and money, and to build each other up. Look around you for examples – this kind of thing is happening everywhere.

Volume One has been doing a bit of hiring lately (for the latest round learn more at VolumeOne.org/careers). I bring this up because, even more than before, we’re seeing a trend in the cover letters we receive and in the conversations we have with applicants. People are sensing something happening in this community, and they want to be a part of it. They’re looking for opportunities to get in that game. Students are staying and returning here after college, not because they have to, but because they want to. People are moving their young families here not only because it’s a great place to raise a family, but because they want to be a part of this new vibe. It’s all very fantastic. But none of it matters unless we all follow through. Unless we keep building on the vision in our own individual ways, big or small. And unless we, as a community, can support each other’s ideas and efforts.

And that brings me to the big quote by William James we’ve got nailed to the wall in our office: “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the interest of the community.”

I can see all this from my window right now. You can be a part of it. Ask yourself where you fit in, and get to work.

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