Finding Our Future in Buildings of the Past

by Nick Meyer

Right here, you can find a story about the successfully completed negotiations between the Brewing Projekt and Eau Claire’s Redevelopment Authority to turn an old building along the Chippewa River into a new destination tap room and production facility for the growing beer company. It’s a project that has been pegged with the hopes of jump starting the Cannery District on downtown Eau Claire’s northwest side. With that, Brewing Projekt owner Will Glass and his team will now start the process of rehabbing the deserted old brick building into something better. Such re-habs of old buildings are what the public generally says they want to see happen, with many people fantasizing about what they’d do with an old brick building. Oftentimes these efforts are very worthwhile – when you’re finally done you have a space bursting with a kind of character you just can’t get if you build new. Just look at all the work John Mogensen has done. Other times it doesn’t go so well, as in the recently abandoned effort with the Huebsch building on Dewey Street. Personally, I can say from experience: remodeling old buildings is hard. And expensive. In 2011 we started the process of remodeling Volume One’s building, originally built in 1882 as a candy factory, into our new office, the Local Store, and Volume One Gallery. It was a highly rewarding effort but not without its costs. Today, a few friends and I are neck deep in the remodel of two other old buildings across the street into The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely. The main building was built in 1947 as the Hotel Edwards, and they added a second structure in 1961. Through the 50s and 60s it was a vital and busy place with a steakhouse, two bars, hair salon, lunch counter, and more. We’ve been working to bring back that vitality a few years now and I’m happy to say we’ll finally be open this fall. While we hope it will ultimately be equally rewarding, let me tell you – it’s been a difficult path, though not entirely an unexpected one. It’s been a process of added cost, complications, and compromises – a time I’m looking forward to putting behind me. Back in the Cannery District, much credit should go to Will Glass and his vision for that old building. And to anyone who makes a go of creating something new out of something old. We need more people willing to step up in that way and make a go of it. The new buildings are nice, but we need our old ones too. And when we find that right mix, our community is all the better for it.

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