Every year around this time, we here at Volume One try to test our readers’ knowledge on the events and happenings of the past year for our annual Year In Review quiz. Now, on the dawn of a brand new DECADE, we’re taking a look back at the last 10 years of life here in the Chippewa Valley.
Take the quiz and see if you’ve been paying attention by putting your local knowledge to the test.
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ALTOONA’S BIG PROJECT
The City of Altoona adopted a 30-year comprehensive plan for the community on July 23, 2009, which included just a few references to River Prairie. Now, the development on the Eau Claire River is a bustling mixed-use neighborhood featuring apartments, hotels, restaurants, shopping, healthcare, and more. An events center in the heart of the development hosts weddings, reunions, corporate gatherings, and food festivals such as Volume One’s First Taste. The surrounding park has become home to Altoona’s P10 festival, a farmer’s market, and multiple weekly summer concert series. Nature trails thread along the wooded riverbank and a water access point connects residents and visitors to the water. This summer, a new art installment is scheduled for River Prairie Park.
In 2018, after an early decade-long struggle, urban chicken keeping became legal in Eau Claire. Over the decade, the Eau Claire City Council discussed the matter four times, starting in May of 2010, with subsequent attempts in July 2011, Feb. 2013, and Nov. of 2018 Now residents of the city with a large enough property can raise up to five hens after notifying neighbors, submitting to a coop inspection, and purchasing a license. Menomonie adopted a Chicken ordinance in 2012, and Lake Hallie followed suit in 2013. Chippewa Falls doesn’t have a chicken ordinance at all.
While the Chippewa Valley’s transportation infrastructure didn’t change as radically in the 2010s as it had in the previous decade — when the U.S. Highway 53 bypass opened and Highway 29 was converted to four lanes — there were still some significant changes. Among other things, major arteries such as Hastings Way, Barstow Street, and State Street saw upgrades, a new Water Street bridge was built, and roundabouts began to proliferate (though one of the foot of the State Street hill wasn’t built after neighbors opposed it). Another big change occurred in downtown Eau Claire in September 2012 when Barstow Street and Graham Avenue were converted to two-way traffic.
Eau Claire became a hotspot for presidential hopefuls during the 2016 election cycle, with candidates racking up more than $50,000 in debt to the city for security and venue expenses. To this day, those services remain unpaid. During an especially busy weekend in April 2016, four candidates made their way through Eau Claire to stump. Bernie Sanders was introduced at Zorn Arena by Justin Vernon on Saturday morning, Hillary Clinton spoke at the Lismore in the afternoon, and Donald Trump at Memorial High School that evening.
BIG BOX BUST
In the online shopping v. storefront battle that has waged throughout the 2010s, there’s been a clear loser in the Chippewa Valley; department stores. Kmart fizzled after more than 50 years of business in 2015, and in the later teens anchor stores in Oakwood Mall hired people to wave those flashy neon “80% OFF, ALL FIXTURES MUST GO” signs.
Well, who could’ve predicted the decade that Bon Iver would have? After the crazy breakout success of For Emma, Forever Ago, the band could’ve totally flopped in the 2010’s, but instead they dropped Bon Iver, Bon Iver to kick off the decade, which found ‘em nominated for Grammys (and winning a few of them including “Best New Artist”), performing on late night TV, and lauded with widespread critical acclaim. It didn’t slow down there; not at all. On the homefront, Justin Vernon teamed up with Aaron Dessner of The National to create Eaux Claires, their own specially curated festival right here in Eau Claire. At Eaux Claires Deux in 2016, the band debuted 22, A Million live for the first time during their headlining set, and introduced a spastic, experimental new sound. More Grammy noms, more cool writeups, more TV appearances. The band has truly hit its stride here at the end of the decade, and in 2019 released their fourth album, a cap to their “seasons” cycle — i,i.
TEN YEARS OF BEERS
Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Chippewa Falls all experienced a boozy bloom in the past decade, with new breweries, wineries, and distilleries popping up left and right.
I FEEL LIKE PABLO
When the Pablo Center at the Confluence opened with great fanfare in September 2018, it was the culmination of a more than six-year process that began when a group of partners — including UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, Commonweal Development, and Market & Johnson — announced what was originally called the Confluence Project. The road to actually building the $60 million shared university-community arts center at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers in downtown Eau Claire wasn’t an easy one.
The city of Chippewa Falls broke ground on the Chippewa Riverfront Park in 2016, and three years later the finished park became a new hub for music, recreation, and community. The project included a fishing pier, a splash pad, and an amphitheater, which has already been put to good use hosting the Northwoods Blues Festival in June, and Phil Cook during the city’s sesquicentennial celebration in August of this year. (That means it’s 150th birthday!) There was some skepticism about the project, however, as the land dedicated to the park is partially in a flood zone.
The Menomonie Market Food Co-op moved from their 521 2nd St, Menomonie location into some fancy new digs in 2015, more than quadrupling their size at 814 Main St. East. The 41-year-old grocery store was able to make this leap thanks to fundraising, Tax Incremental Financing credits, and a $500,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Their taxes since the move have helped to fund street improvements on Eighth Street and the construction of a farmers market pavilion in Wilson Park.
THE BEST BESTS
Now in its 13th year — check our Feb. 5 issue for full results of the latest installment! — Volume One’s Best of the Chippewa Valley Reader Poll is a great indicator of what local folks truly care about: their favorite eateries, stores, parks, musicians, and much more. As times and tastes have changed, the poll results have fluctuated, but some of our favorites have endured.
A FEST-FILLED DECADE
In the 2010’s, music festivals in the Chippewa Valley truly got taken to another level. Country Jam, Rock Fest, and Country Fest — three mainstay festivals that have been rocking for over three decades — held down their respective genres, and pushed new experiences and new offerings to delight their fans. In 2015, the landscape shifted as two newcomers, Blue Ox and Eaux Claires, launched. Blue Ox mastered the bluegrass scene and has become an annual stop for Americana legends, while Eaux Claires pairs an eclectic hand-picked lineup of huge artists with visual arts, poetry, and all kinds of other experiential bits and pieces.
WHEN THIS WAS THAT
Over the years we couldn’t help but notice a couple specific locations around the Valley that change hands from business to business so often, it can be a little bit head-spinning. Especially in the restaurant world. Case by case, every restaurant’s development comes with its own set of triumphs and challenges, but we want to see if you can remember which businesses were where.
The Pablo Center wasn’t the only major construction project in downtown Eau Claire during the decade. Haymarket Plaza, a six-story combination of commercial space and university student housing, was built just to the northeast, more apartment buildings rose in the Phoenix Park area, as did a major office building for Jamf Software and a new municipal parking ramp, and not one but two hotels were reborn downtown. However, as the decade drew to a close, two crucial plots of land, both owned by the city’s Redevelopment Authority, remain undeveloped: the “liner site” on North Barstow Street, where the U.S. Post Office formerly stood, and the so-called Block 7, now a temporary parking lot, just to the north.
Let’s be honest here, we didn’t think we’d be writing about grocery stores to encapsulate the entire decade of the life in the Valley. But here we are. The 2010’s were extremely volatile and shifty for local grocery store chains. There was lots of shake-up, but none were as wild as the saga of Gordy’s. The Chippewa Falls-based chain bought up a bunch of stores in a merger with Mega Foods, then promptly went out of business, saying their expansion plan was “too aggressive.” It was less of a hanging of the hat, and more of a crash-and-burn scenario.
ENJOY YOUR STAY
What a big decade for tourism in the Valley! Thrillist called Eau Claire “The MiniPortland of your Dreams,” Food and Wine Magazine called us “Mythical,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed the great places to stay, eat, drink, and recreate, and more. Visit Eau Claire found a new home in The Pablo Center at the Confluence, moving from its former location on North Crossing and settling on a new, hip logo. Hotels have sprung up in River Prairie, near Oakwood Mall, and all over the Valley. The former Green Tree Inn & Suites in downtown Eau Claire became the very hip-and-with-it Oxbow Hotel. The downtown Hilton underwent a similarly extreme makeover, and was christened The Lismore.
In the 2010’s, you never know what trivial piece of content thrown up on the internet can spread like wildfire. And here in the Chippewa Valley, there’s been some great viral moments from people right here in town.
MURAL, MURAL ON THE WALL
Downtown Eau Claire has got mural fever, y’all, and there’s no cure. That’s great because what downtown Eau Claire also has is a lot of blank wall space. The 2010’s saw a shift in perspective as more and more, businesses and public spaces commissioned murals and other forms of public art for their spaces. At the dawn of the new decade, there’s murals on Skin Prints, Eau Claire Printing Co., The Brewing Projekt, Artisan Forge, and Bon Iver even did one for their third album. And it only looks to get more vibrant and colorful from here.
HUNGRY FOR MORE
The Chippewa Valley food scene leveled up in so many ways in the 2010’s! From the proliferation of food trucks, to more and more farmers markets, to farm-to-table offerings, international cuisine, upscale dining, and much more. And food events took off in a big way too. You can grub down at Food Truck Friday, Taste of the Valley, Food Truck Cinema, First Taste Culinary Crawl, the Beer & Cheese Thing — and only scratching the surface. And on top of that, we started Chippewa Valley Restaurant Week, where dozens of eateries offer special deals and celebrate our culinary culture.
Eau Claire City Hall was restored to some of its original grandeur in 2019 after a nearly two-year renovation project. The original City Hall was built in 1916, and in the 1970s it was connected to the former Eau Claire Public Library, which dates to 1903. The $6.4 million renovation project revealed and restored architectural elements such as maple floors, fireplaces, and columns.
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