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In the spring of 2007, I hopped in a Chevy Malibu with a printed — yes, we used to print things on paper and not just look at our phone — list of apartments I wanted to check out in Eau Claire.

I had just accepted a job with the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. The pay was enough that I didn’t have to accept the cheapest dump in the market, so I was excited to see my options.

I looked on the south side. The north side. The west side. I cruised around Altoona.

But I never looked downtown. At that time, there either wasn’t anything available, or what was available didn’t have the amenities I wanted.

Oh, to be an apartment seeker now.

I traded a lease for a mortgage a little more than six years ago, but if I was that 26-year-old looking for an apartment today, I know where I would start my search.

I would want to be at the Riverfront Terrace or Banbury Place in Eau Claire. 503 Broadway in Menomonie. Or I’d want to live near Riverfront Park, even if it isn’t finished yet, in Chippewa Falls.

I don’t think I’m alone. Who wouldn’t want to live in downtown Eau Claire, or downtown Menomonie, or downtown Chippewa Falls? Especially in places like the ones featured in this magazine.

These developers know what they are doing. And what we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are more projects on the way, like the Cannery District in Eau Claire. Recent graduates of the valley’s universities may not need to flock to the Twin Cities, or Madison, or Milwaukee, if they can find that urban lifestyle — and a cheaper cost of living — right here.

They’ll be more likely to stay here. Get married here. Raise a family here.

That leads to vibrant communities, well-supported school districts and a growing tax base.

And it’s not just for the young kids. Seniors, too, want to be downtown. The developers and city redevelopment authorities are listening.

That gives me hope that my time may come again. Many, many years — and mortgage payments — from now, of course.

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John Casper Jr. is regional editor for the River Valley Media Group, which includes the Chippewa Herald and Dunn County News.

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