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Downtown vision unfolds before our eyes

Posted November 19th, 2015

 

Taken from the Leader-Telegram 
By Don Huebscher
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Mark Twain once said that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
For decades, the same pretty much applied to downtown Eau Claire.
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Not anymore.

Two more major developments in the remake of our downtown occurred within hours of each other last week. 

The Eau Claire City Council unanimously approved a development agreement for a $40 million community arts center as part of the Confluence Project.

A few hours earlier, a $500,000 state grant was announced that will enable a group of investors to renovate the former Green Tree Inn into The Oxbow Hotel, now slated to open next summer. That makeover will include a 30-room "boutique" hotel, a 70-seat restaurant and bar, and a performance space. 
Those spearheading the project include Grammy-winning musician Justin Vernon, Volume One magazine publisher Nick Meyer, JAMF software co-founder and former UW-Eau Claire music major Zach Halmstad, and Eau Claire Regional Arts Council executive director Ben Richgruber, so the fact that live music is expected to be a big draw for The Oxbow is no surprise.

Within shouting distance of The Oxbow is the former Huebsch Linen building on Dewey Street being renovated by Jack Kaiser into a 100-seat restaurant, 40-seat bar and upper-floor apartments along the Eau Claire River. Just a couple blocks to the southwest of that is the $16 million renovation well under way at what will be The Lismore, formerly the Ramada Convention Center, which Eau Claire native Halmstad also is heavily invested. A block west of that is the site of the arts center and the $26 million mixed-use building well under construction. 

The birthplace of downtown Eau Claire's resurgence can be seen across the Eau Claire River from the Confluence Project site where the RCU corporate headquarters overlooks the two rivers. Charles Grossklaus, another Eau Claire native, made the key decision to locate the new RCU building at that location more than a decade ago. That set in motion the North Barstow Street Redevelopment District, which includes Phoenix Park and tens of millions of dollars more in tax base in the form of apartments, businesses and more recently the new JAMF Software office building - again led by Halmstad.

And a bit further west across the Chippewa River, let's not forget the decision by leaders of Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire to expand and renovate their hospital and clinic at its long-time location to the tune of well over $100 million rather than flock to the outskirts of town.
Nobody is simply talking about injecting new life into downtown Eau Claire anymore. It's actually happening at a dizzying pace. All of those involved deserve credit for taking risks, believing in our community and investing in their vision.
Hopefully the rest of us will support these ventures to help them succeed.
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