Big River Education Center to be first building on Menomonie Street land

A mixed-use building consisting of the Big River Education Center, climbing wall, small deli-style restaurant and apartments for students will be the first phase in a multi-project development on the Menomonie Street property owned by the Blugold Real Estate Foundation.

The primary project on that site will be the John H. and Carolyn Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex. More than 23 acres of riverfront property was donated in August 2014 by UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag through County Materials Corp. and their family foundation. County Materials Corp., the Sonnentags’ family-owned concrete manufacturing company, owned the land previously. They also donated land previously occupied by Student Transit-Eau Claire.

Project Partners Create ECCC


Chancellor James Schmidt speaks during a June 22 press conference to announcement updates regarding the John H. and Carolyn Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex.

The project’s three founding partners — the Blugold Real Estate Foundation, Eau Claire YMCA and Mayo Clinic Health System — have formed the Eau Claire Community Complex Inc. (ECCC), a non-profit, non-stock corporation that will develop, build and own the Sonnentag Complex. Representatives from the three organizations and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire currently are working on developing the facilities footprint, programming, and designated and shared space. They are touring other facilities in the region to gather recommendations and information on design, best practices and facility innovations.

Following a competitive bidding process, ECCC has selected Ayres Associates of Eau Claire, in collaboration with Kahler Slater of Milwaukee, as the architect and engineering firm. Market & Johnson of Eau Claire has been selected as the construction manager for the Sonnentag Complex project and Hoeft Builders of Altoona for the Big River Education Center project.

“The project partners share a common vision of doing all that we can to benefit the community,” said Jason Craig, vice chair of administration, Northwest Wisconsin, Mayo Clinic Health System. “We implemented a competitive proposal process for both design and construction management services. We were pleased that the submissions from the local companies were competitive, and we know that these firms share our vision for building great community facilities. Knowing that this project is creating local jobs is another benefit.”

ECCC is in the process of creating a general development plan for the entire Menomonie Street site that will be presented to appropriate city of Eau Claire and other groups for review, revision and approval.  It is anticipated that process will begin in late summer. Once the general development plan, along with any necessary zoning changes are approved, the project will proceed to the first phase of construction.

Plans for site work, first building project

Because of the timetable set by a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Idle Sites Grant and two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants, deconstruction of the buildings on the site will begin early this fall. The work will start with the former Student Transit buildings near the Hobbs Municipal Ice Center.

The first building to be constructed will be the Big River Education Center, which includes apartments for students in its design. Other design elements include space for UW-Eau Claire’s Recreation and Sport Facilities Environmental Adventure Center, a climbing wall, areas for conducting educational programs on the Chippewa River, and a small deli-style restaurant. The student housing would incorporate several floors and is intended to house up to 350 students. The current project timeline is for construction of the building to begin in spring 2018 with completion in August 2019.

“We are pleased to be working with Hoeft Builders, who have agreed to develop the first building on the site,” said Kimera Way, executive director of the Blugold Real Estate Foundation. “The goal is to provide another creative housing option for students to address the university’s continuing need for student housing. What we are announcing today is a general plan for the Big River building — we know that there are many governmental entities that will need to review and approve our plan. However, we believe it is important to be transparent about our plans for this amazing riverfront site. Our goal is to meet critical university needs and develop facilities to benefit the community as well.”

Grants funding the removal of buildings and contaminants from the site include $500,000 awarded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to Eau Claire County and $400,000 awarded by the EPA to the Blugold Real Estate Foundation.

From east to west, the Sonnentag Complex site includes the former locations of Student Transit-Eau Claire, County Materials Corp. and Fabick Cat along Menomonie Street. The sites’ past occupants over the years have included lumber mills, sewer pipe manufacturers, foundries and a concrete manufacturer, Craig said.

Event center, recreation/wellness facility planning continues

Planning continues on the major event center and shared wellness, recreation and fitness facility included in the Sonnentag Complex.

The major events center currently is proposed to have seating for between 4,500 and 5,000. Plans call for a versatile design to accommodate multiple types of events and activities – these could possibly include UW-Eau Claire men’s and women’s basketball and men’s hockey, area youth athletic tournaments, large indoor concerts, festivals, conventions, and other entertainment or sports events. The events center was a major need identified through both UW-Eau Claire and the Clear Vision Eau Claire strategic planning processes. Incorporating attached convention facilities and a hotel to the events center is a possibility under discussion, Way said.

The wellness, recreation and fitness facility will be operated jointly by the Eau Claire YMCA UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System.

“The ability to share recreation and fitness facilities enables the partner organizations to create better and larger facilities than what they could do on their own and eliminates unnecessary duplication,” said Ken Van Es, Eau Claire YMCA executive director.

Project funding

The project costs for the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex and the Big River Education Center still are being finalized. In addition to the gift of land and initial funding from the Sonnentag family and the WEDC and EPA grants, various funding sources are being identified. These will include a major philanthropic initiative seeking funds locally, regionally and nationally to afford supporters of UW-Eau Claire, the Y, and Mayo Clinic Health System around the country an opportunity to give. Grants, new market tax credits and long-term leases with the major tenants also will be sought to fund the construction.


Jason Craig, Vice Chair, Administration, Northwest Wisconsin
Mayo Clinic Health System

Ken Van Es, Executive Director
Eau Claire YMCA

Kimera Way, Executive Director
Blugold Real Estate Foundation

Mike Rindo, Assistant Chancellor
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire