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 which border the downtown Haymarket parking lot.
The project includes a community arts center and a mixed-use development consisting of retail/commercial space, parking and an apartment complex suitable for university student housing. Expanding the site to include buildings along South Barstow Street is part of the approved general development plan.
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- to 1500-seat theater to replace downtown Eau Claire's obsolete State Theatre; a 450-seat theater 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 parking structure; and approximately 100 apartments suitable for university student housing. The apartments would add about 300-375 residents to the downtown area (no first-year students), be privately owned and operated, and serve as a living-learning community for music, theater 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.
The private partners share the risks and costs with the public sector and provide an ability to utilize budgeting, scheduling and cost-control processes that are often difficult to effect in solely public sector projects.
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.
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 individual building sections. As it is currently envisioned, a nonprofit corporation would own dedicated space for local organizations (ECRAC, Visit Eau Claire and/or others). The Confluence Council, comprised of members from arts organizations, the city, university, Visit Eau Claire, developers and the community at large would be responsible for oversight and governance of the community arts center. The state of Wisconsin would own the building section used exclusively by the university for its music, theater 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 be privately owned and operated.
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 to accommodate them.
The State Theatre, which has long served as the primary home of Eau Claire’s entertainment and cultural offerings, was built 88 years ago as a vaudeville house and is not suitable for many modern productions. An analysis of The State 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, opened in 1952, and additional fine arts studio space. New and improved facilities for music, theater 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.
The housing demand study determined there is significant student demand for suite and apartment-style residence halls, including an off-campus apartment complex. The master plan identifies several new residence hall projects, including an off-campus apartment complex 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) and eliminate the use of local hotels for student housing.
With the exception of Chancellors Hall, our extremely popular apartment-style residence hall, all of the housing on campus was constructed between 1955 and 1969. Much of that housing must either be replaced or totally renovated. That will require us to take existing housing off-line, worsening our chronic housing shortage. In short, we desperately need more student housing options.
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-$55 million, and the minimum estimated cost of the mixed-use development is $21.5 million.
A combination of public and philanthropic funding for the arts center is required.
Private investment would pay for the retail/commercial space and student housing in the mixed-use building.
The construction of the community arts center would be funded through philanthropy (approximately $10 million-$12 million), local governmental unit investments and new market tax credits. The city of Eau Claire has pledged $5 million in Tax Increment Financing funds, and Eau Claire County has pledged $3.5 million toward the community arts center construction. UW-Eau Claire would seek $25 million from the state of Wisconsin to pay for its portion of the facility housing fine and performing arts academic and program space in the arts center. The county pledge was subject to an advisory referendum on April 1, 2014. The referendum was approved by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. The city also held a referendum vote on April 1 that, while not directly related to the Confluence Project, would have subjected the city’s ability to invest $1 million or more “on any building construction that is planned for dramatic, musical or artistic performances” to a binding referendum vote. That referendum was rejected by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.
What would happen to Kjer Theatre and Haas Fine Arts Center?
Haas Fine Arts Center, UW-Eau Claire’s primary arts facility, would continue 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 select 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 state funds 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 intention of tearing the theater down. Second, its primary use will no longer be as performing arts facility. The completion of the Confluence Project will allow for creative repurposing 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?
It is important that we only build that which we can sustain. 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. The business plan currently under development does not provide for any governmental subsidies, other than hotel-motel room taxes, for operations.
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 part of the approved general development plan. An analysis of the buildings along South Barstow Street determined they are not candidates for cost-effective renovation.
What about parking?
The city is planning to construct a parking structure next to the new JAMF Software building in the North Barstow redevelopment area that, along with the existing Civic Center parking ramp, on-street parking and surface parking lots in the immediate vicinity, would serve community arts center parking.