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July 3, 2008

Chapter 3: The search for solutions

For 15 years, North Columbia has waited for its moment. Community leaders watched as other parts of the city began to flourish. New housing in Waverly. Luxury apartments in Olympia’s old mills. Entertainment, nightlife and restaurants in the Vista. Beautification in Five Points.

For 15 years, North Columbia has waited for its moment.

Community leaders watched as other parts of the city began to flourish. New housing in Waverly. Luxury apartments in Olympia’s old mills. Entertainment, nightlife and restaurants in the Vista. Beautification in Five Points.

There was even a condo boom around Williams-Brice Stadium.

And while North Columbia has its modest successes — Elmwood Park, Cottontown and Earlewood, for instance — most of the 40 neighborhoods that make up North Columbia have unrealized potential.

The city has tried. It’s invested millions of dollars in a retail center on North Main, renovated the old Eau Claire Town Hall and printing plant and improved its parks. And it’s just begun a long-awaited streetscaping project on North Main.

But the challenges are daunting. And it’s unfortunate it took the deaths of three people in the heart of Eau Claire to focus attention on this rich, diverse and historic area.

But the urgency is now palpable, heightened by City Manager Charles Austin’s assessment that the community, after a series of apartment shootings, is “in crisis.”

Maybe now the problems can be addressed:

 Security for the apartment complexes, particularly those that have been scenes of violence

 More visible law enforcement and community policing

 Greater emphasis on lifting the area’s public schools out of “failing” status

 Targeting of neglected or abandoned houses

 Eradicating the tangled undergrowth

 Expanding the North Columbia streetscape project beyond the entrance to North Columbia

Community leaders say now is the time to stop talking and start searching for solutions.

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