Place-Making, Chippewa Valley Style

Eau Claire’s Confluence Project is changing the Chippewa Valley by making it a special destination of its own. Surrounding areas are responding in kind with their own projects. What does it mean if Eau Claire becomes an art mecca?

Phoenix Park has a gorgeous pavilion on the water in downtown Eau Claire. It has long been a center of activity for music and the farmers market. Now, the Confluence Project takes that amazingness and amps it up with a new outdoor space connected with the Phoenix Park area as well as 2 buildings that will have space for theatre, the arts, and retail (the possibilities are awesome).

The Confluence is a Major Development that will be working with the University of WI, Eau Claire as well as the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

We want more!

Even if you’ve been half-snoozing during the evening news, you know that Menomonie is building a pavilion for their own Farmer’s Market. The City of Chippewa Falls has also decided to invest in a large city park on the edge of downtown. Perched at the end of the bridge, it will give Chippewa Falls a huge helping of curb appeal.

There’s also a TON of hotels going up. The possibilities for the area are going up along with the multi-story buildings.

What’s next?

The Confluence has only just begun its build, so I expect to see more and more investment in Eau Claire and the surrounding area. There will be more business opportunities, and perhaps local wages will go up as well as the demand for skilled workers increases.

In prior years, it was almost like we were advertising that ‘Hey, we’re close to the Twin Cities!’ as a reason to move here. *yawn* That just wasn’t cutting the mustard. We’re not close enough for that to be the reason to move here.

NOW, we are place-making.

Several years ago, I and my husband JP found ourselves travelling to historic downtown Hudson, WI. Several times over the course of a summer, we found ourselves walking the sidewalks, enjoying meals, drifting in and out of shops and talking. The downtown area was historically beautiful, walkable, open to the water for recreation, and full of lovely shops.

Finally, on one of the trips back to Eau Claire, I exclaimed ‘THIS is what we need in Eau Claire! Why, oh, why don’t we have something like this?’ As my husband loves to encourage me, he listened for the next 45 minutes as I went on about how this could and should happen.

It’s more than music,

(but we’ll take that, too.)

Music has been a draw for several years in Eau Claire. The Eaux Claires festival, Rock Fest, Country Fest, and Country Jam all bring crowds – not to mention all of our local talent.

Place-making is personal.

When public spaces have this level of draw, it’s personal. When you’re designing (when I’m designing), I think of everything dependent upon how you view the space. If you’re driving by, things are much different than if you’re walking. Likewise, if you’re looking down from an upper story.

Creating walkable spaces in a downtown makes it personal. That means stopping and considering everything not only from a car but even more importantly — from the sidewalk.

The advantage of my years of experience as a residential landscape designer is that I am well-versed with the personal interaction of landscape. Walk-through a beautiful space, and you will see what I mean. If you’ve been to a downtown that resonates with beauty and fun, it stays with you — think San Antonio’s Riverwalk.

If the downtown is to have that magnetic draw that is required for this level of amazingness, expect to see and feel something magical when you get out and walk around.

I am looking forward to all of what Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley will be offering in the coming years. We’re adding a revamped downtown as well as a huge infusion of the arts – my only question is ‘What’s next?’