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UW-Eau Claire shares Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex update

With site preparation underway, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and its partners have announced they expect to begin construction by July 1, 2020, on the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex. The complex is to be built on a 21-acre site along Menomonie Street in Eau Claire.

Partners on the project — the Blugold Real Estate Foundation (a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation), Mayo Clinic Health System-Northwest Wisconsin, the YMCA of the Chippewa Valley and UW-Eau Claire — have created plans for a $90 million to $100 million complex. The building site, which borders the Chippewa River, was part of an approximately $10 million gift in 2014 from UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag.

The Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex is expected to meet the athletics, fitness and recreation needs of UW-Eau Claire and the YMCA, along with housing a Mayo Clinic Health System sports medicine and human performance facility.

“As with the collaborative approach taken in the development of Pablo Center at the Confluence, the partners in the Sonnentag complex will be able to achieve more together than they could have on their own,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. “The result will be a multi-use, top-quality facility that will serve a cross-section of our community, from young to old and across all socioeconomic groups.

Facility features

Plans shared with the public in October depict a 244,000-square-foot Sonnentag complex with three dedicated spaces:

  • A 97,000-square-foot multi-purpose event center with seating for 3,300 to 4,100, depending on the type of event. For UW-Eau Claire the center will serve as a replacement for Zorn Arena, as called for in the university’s Campus Master Plan. The center will host Blugold men’s and women’s basketball games and other university events, as well as community events such as concerts, athletic tournaments and commencement ceremonies.
  • A 118,000-square-foot fitness and recreation center that will replace the current YMCA of the Chippewa Valley facility in downtown Eau Claire and be shared by UW-Eau Claire students. The fitness and recreation center will include a main gym, a kids’ gym, two racquetball courts, a fitness center, space for aerobics and wellness classes, an indoor track, a child care area, locker rooms and an aquatic center with a family pool and a competition pool where YMCA and university swimming and diving teams would host meets.
  • A 30,000-square-foot Mayo Clinic Health System clinical location and research center providing imaging, sports medicine, and performance enhancement services. The center also will be a site for research conducted through the collaborative research agreement between UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System.

This general plan was shared with news media in advance of the October Board of Regents meeting, though Schmidt said plans will continue evolving. He indicated project partners are still doing the work of refining designs to meet budget targets.

UW-Eau Claire student use of the fitness and recreation areas will alleviate overcrowding in current on-campus facilities — which are shared by athletic teams and the general student population, and the Sonnentag complex location will be convenient for the many off-campus students who live nearby, Schmidt said.

Additional Sonnentag complex features will include academic space for UW-Eau Claire’s kinesiology program, which will facilitate synergies between university faculty and students and Mayo Clinic Health System human performance training staff and researchers, Schmidt said. Also planned are university athletic department offices, a second-floor running track with views of the Chippewa River, and two smaller gyms that can be used for YMCA programming, university intramural activities and community athletics tournaments.

Ownership structure

A non-profit corporation, Eau Claire Community Complex Inc., will assume ownership of the land on which the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex will be located. ECCC also will build and own the Sonnentag complex and lease space to UW-Eau Claire, Mayo Clinic Health System and the YMCA. The ECCC board includes representation from the Blugold Real Estate Foundation, Mayo Clinic Health System, the YMCA, UW-Eau Claire and the community.

Next steps

UW-Eau Claire’s share of the Sonnentag complex construction cost will be $40 million to $45 million, with the YMCA portion to be $45 million to $47 million and Mayo’s cost to be $11 million to $13 million. To cover the university’s share of the cost, the UW-Eau Claire Foundation is seeking philanthropic donations to supplement the Sonnentags’ gift. The plan is to have full funding in place before construction begins, Schmidt said.

“The mission of this project is one that we are confident donors will support,” Schmidt said. “This is an exciting venture in which three pillar organizations in our region are coming together to create a shared facility that, in a very multifaceted way, will promote the health and well-being of our entire community for years to come.”

An ongoing UW-Eau Claire-related cost will be its annual lease for use and maintenance of its share of space within the Sonnentag complex. Within the UW System, recreational, fitness and event spaces may not be funded by state tax dollars. Therefore, in a spring 2020 referendum, UW-Eau Claire students will weigh in on a proposal to allot student fees to pay UW-Eau Claire’s annual lease, which would cover the university’s use of the event center and also allow students full access to the YMCA fitness and recreational spaces as well as portions of the Mayo Clinic Health System space at no additional cost.

UW-Eau Claire students have been involved in the Sonnentag complex project since its inception, with the Student Senate president and vice president serving on the campus project team and another student, appointed by the student body president, serving as a member of ECCC.

Nearly 80% of UW-Eau Claire students participate in the university’s recreational activities and programming, and more than 3,500 students live in the area of the Sonnentag complex site, which is approximately one mile from UW-Eau Claire’s main campus. The main campus and Sonnentag complex site are connected by a recreational trail as well as by a city bus route. More than 700 student-athletes will benefit from the new complex, through use of the event center by the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the aquatic center by the men’s and women’s swim and diving teams, and the athletic training and sport performance areas by students from various athletics programs.

Ultimately, the UW System Board of Regents must approve the UW-Eau Claire lease and student referendum before the Sonnentag complex project can move forward.

Editor's Note: In December of 2019, the YMCA announced it was removing itself from the partnership behind the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex.