Frequently asked questions:
The Confluence Project
What is The Confluence Project?
The Confluence Project is planned on property commonly referred to as the "Haymarket Site" at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in Downtown Eau Claire. The site along Eau Claire Street and Graham Avenue consists of the Farmers Store and Market Square buildings that border the downtown Haymarket parking lot.
The project includes a community arts center and a mixed-use development consisting of retail/commercial space, public parking and university student housing. Expanding the site to include buildings along South Barstow Street to allow for additional commercial space also is being considered.
As envisioned, the community arts center of approximately 150,000 square feet would serve the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council (ECRAC), community performing and fine arts organizations, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Preliminary plans for the community arts center include:
- Three distinct performance spaces:a 1,200-1500 seat theatre to replace downtown Eau Claire's obsolete State Theatre; a 450-seat theatre to replace UW-Eau Claire's aging Kjer Theatre; and a 250-seat black box-style venue.
- Scene and costume shops.
- Dressing rooms and other "back of house" operations.
- Fine arts studios, gallery space and dance studio space.
- Classrooms and rehearsal rooms.
- Offices for ECRAC, community arts organizations and select university faculty and staff in the fine and performing arts.
The performance spaces would be designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate a wide array of performances, including major touring Broadway-style productions that currently cannot be effectively staged in any existing venue in Eau Claire. Private promoters would also be engaged to further expand the local entertainment experience.
Preliminary plans for the mixed-use development include: space suitable for restaurants/bars, coffee houses, retail, offices and other commercial uses; a public parking structure; and apartment-style university student housing. The university student housing would add about 300–370 residents to the downtown area (no first-year students), be operated by UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life, and serve as a living-learning community for music, theatre and art students.
Consistent with elements in the Eau Claire Downtown Riverfront District Redevelopment Strategy and Vision Plan, the preliminary plans include a public plaza on the site of the Haymarket parking lot currently owned and operated by the City of Eau Claire, a bridge across the Eau Claire River connecting the new plaza to Phoenix Park, expansion of the riverfront trail network along the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, and space adjacent to the trails suitable for outdoor dining and various types of public gatherings.
Who is involved in The Confluence Project?
The Haymarket property is owned by Haymarket Concepts LLC. Haymarket Concepts is a partnership between Commonweal Development Corp., Market & Johnson Inc. and Blugold Real Estate LLC, a subsidiary of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation. Commonweal Development would be responsible for the project development, and Market & Johnson would act as construction manager. The private partners share the project risks and costs with the public sector.
The Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, local arts organizations and artists, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire would be the primary users. Expanding the scale of scope of events is necessary to help assure project sustainability. Chippewa Valley natives Justin Vernon and Kyle Frenette, of the Eau Claire-based Grammy-winning band Bon Iver, are actively involved in a consulting capacity and have been very helpful in identifying new opportunities.
Who would own and operate the buildings?
While the operating arrangement is still being developed, ownership and operation of the community arts center would be based on ownership of condominium units. As it is currently envisioned, a non-profit corporation would own dedicated space for local organizations (ECRAC, Visit Eau Claire and/or others) and would operate the common areas of the condominium structure. The State of Wisconsin would own the condo used exclusively by the university for its music, theatre and arts academic programs. To maximize the utilization of the new community arts center and ensure its viability and success, ECRAC and UW-Eau Claire, along with other potential participants, would all be active in the operations of the facility.
The mixed-use building would have three owners: Commonweal Development would own and operate the retail/commercial space, the City of Eau Claire would own and operate the parking structure, and the state of Wisconsin would own the apartment-style student housing which would be operated by UW-Eau Claire Housing and Residence Life. Subject to broad rules established for the entire building, each owner would operate its condo unit independently of the others.
Why build a new community arts center downtown?
Ensuring that downtown Eau Claire remains the center for arts and culture in the greater Eau Claire community is a specific goal of a number of plans that have been developed with considerable public input. Those plans include:
- City of Eau Claire Comprehensive Plan
- Clear Vision Eau Claire
- Eau Claire Downtown Riverfront District Redevelopment Strategy and Vision Plan
- The Good Life:A Cultural Direction for Eau Claire County
- University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Campus Facilities Master Plan
It is expected that this area could become the cultural center for the region, impacting the community just as retail trade, medical services, higher education and professional services have flourished with regionalization.
As residents and activities increase in the area, so will demand for goods and services. As demand increases, reuse and redevelopment of existing real estate will occur. Sales, property and hospitality tax revenues will all increase.
Why does Eau Claire need a new arts facility?
Culture and entertainment are crucial to a healthy community. The Eau Claire region has exceptional programs, an abundance of local talent, exceptional opportunity for growth of the creative industry and completely inadequate facilities with which to do so.
The State Theatre, which has long served as the primary home of Eau Claire's entertainment and cultural offerings, was built 86 years ago as a vaudeville house and is not suitable for many modern productions. An analysis of the State Theatre indicates it would cost an estimated $10 million just to extend its useful life without making the necessary stage and technical improvements to support today's more elaborate concerts and theatrical productions.
The university also has demonstrated need for new arts facilities, especially a replacement for the aging and inadequate Kjer Theatre, built in 1951, and additional fine arts studio space. New and improved facilities for music, theatre and the arts are the university's highest priority.
Why locate a student housing complex downtown?
As part of its 20-year Campus Facilities Master Plan, UW-Eau Claire conducted a comprehensive housing demand study. The study determined current university student housing is at 108 percent capacity and that there is significantly more demand for university housing than is available. Current university housing capacity is 4,080, while the student population exceeds 11,000. The housing demand study demonstrated potential demand for 4,700 university housing beds.
In addition, the university has for more than a decade housed hundreds of students in local hotels. In fall 2012, approximately 150 students are housed in a local hotel.
The housing demand study determined there is significant student demand for suite and apartment-style residence halls, including an off-campus apartment-style hall. The master plan identifies several new residence hall projects, including an off-campus apartment-style hall in close proximity to the university. The new residence halls will enable the university to "de-densify" existing housing (eliminate students living in study lounges and other spaces that have been converted to provide capacity), eliminate the use of local hotels for student housing, and replace aging residence halls (Thomas and Putnam) that are approaching the end of their useful life.
As noted, there is currently capacity for approximately 4,000 students in on-campus university housing, which means there are approximately 7,000 students living elsewhere in the community, including a significant number in the downtown area.
How much would The Confluence Project cost and how would it be funded?
The current estimated cost of the community arts center is $50 million and the estimated cost of the mixed-use development is $33 million. A combination of private, public and philanthropic funding is required.
Private investment would pay for the retail/commercial space in the mixed-use project; the city of Eau Claire would pay for site preparation, parking, and public amenities. UW-Eau Claire would seek $30 million in program revenue (student rent) supported bonding from the UW System Board of Regents to pay for the university student housing.
The construction of the community arts center would be funded through the state's purchase of its condominium unit, philanthropy (approximately $10–$13 million), local governmental unit investments, and new market tax credits. UW-Eau Claire would seek $25 million in state general fund supported (tax revenue) bonding from the UW System Board of Regents to pay for its portion of the facility housing academic program space in the arts center.
What would happen to Kjer Theatre and Haas Fine Arts Center?
Haas Fine Arts Center, UW-Eau Claire's primary arts facility, would continue to be used in that capacity. Existing performance venues (Gantner Concert Hall, Riverside Theatre and Phillips Recital Hall) will remain. Kjer Theatre productions and related academic/support functions would be moved to the community arts center. Select music and theatre arts ensemble rehearsal spaces and performances, as well as university Artists Series and Forum presentations would relocate to the community arts center as well. In addition, select fine arts studios and gallery space would be developed in the community arts center to replace inadequate facilities currently housed in Haas Fine Arts Center and create additional medium-appropriate space. Kjer Theatre would be demolished. After the community arts center is constructed, UW-Eau Claire would seek funds from the UW System regents to remodel and refurbish Haas Fine Arts Center to best serve academic programs that remain housed there.
What would happen to the State Theatre?
While the future of the State Theatre has not been determined, two things are known. First, there is no intent to tear down the theater. Second, its primary use will no longer be as a performing arts facility. The completion of the Confluence Project will allow for creative re-purposing of the historic building and will likely provide opportunities (through economic impact, property values, greater community interest, etc.) that are not currently available.
Who would pay for the arts center operation?
The Confluence Project partners believe it is important to build only that which can be sustained. Much effort and considerable scrutiny will be applied to assure the implementation of that fundamental premise. User fees from local arts organizations and third-party promoters and operating expense reimbursements from UW-Eau Claire and ECRAC are the primary revenue sources. It is anticipated that a nominal ticket surcharge for all events (excluding UW-Eau Claire student tickets), room tax revenues and concession sales will also be significant sources of operating funds. An independent firm, VenuWorks has been engaged by Haymarket Concepts, LLC and the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council to evaluate the preliminary governance structure and business operating models for the community arts center – the VenuWorks report and recommendations are due in late-October or early-November.
Would old and/or historic buildings be torn down?
Plans currently call for all buildings on the Haymarket site to be demolished. Expanding the site to include buildings along South Barstow Street to allow for additional commercial space is being considered. An analysis of the buildings along South Barstow Street will be conducted to determine whether they are historically significant and/or candidates for cost-effective renovation. Public discussions about the future of these buildings will be conducted before a decision is made.
What about parking?
Approximately 200 public parking spaces to replace the current Haymarket parking lot would be constructed in the mixed-used development. A parking analysis is being completed to determine demand created by the project; identify existing parking capacity in close proximity to the Haymarket Site, including the Civic Center parking ramp; and identify potential development sites for additional parking.
What is the timetable?
Next steps include engaging local arts groups, university faculty, staff and students, and the greater public in planning the community arts center; fundraising; and entering into more specific discussions with/presenting formal requests to potential public funding partners including the UW System Board of Regents, state of Wisconsin, the city of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County.
Preparation of the sites would begin in summer 2013. Construction of the both projects could commence late in 2013. The mixed-use project would be completed in summer 2015 and the community arts center would completed in fall 2016.