Confluence Arts Center design unveiled

| Mike Rindo

Design plans, ownership and operations oversight details, and updated budget estimates for the new Confluence Arts Center were presented to the public and news media Feb. 9 in the lobby of the State Theatre in downtown Eau Claire.

Project partners said plans for the arts center were developed during discussions with user groups and stakeholders over the course of 10 meetings with the architect and engineering design teams led by Strang Inc. of Madison and Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture of New York City.

Confluence Arts Center partners also provided information about the ownership role of Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc., the non-profit group that will construct and own the arts center, as well as the Confluence Council, which will oversee operations of the facility. 

Confluence Arts Center design

The Confluence Arts Center will encompass approximately 130,000 square feet within a three-story structure (see the arts center floor plans).  It will serve the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, UW-Eau Claire, local arts organizations and Visit Eau Claire. The design includes the following:

  • a large theater
  • a flexible theater
  • a large and open lobby space overlooking the planned public plaza
  • an intimate performance space currently called the Clearwater Room
  • scene and costume shops, dressing rooms and back-of-house operations
  • dance studio and music and theater rehearsal rooms that can double as performance or meeting spaces
  • art gallery space
  • a recording studio
  • a catering kitchen
  • a Visit Eau Claire welcome center for tourists and downtown visitors
  • office space for Visit Eau Claire, the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council and UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff.

The exterior of the arts center will include a large canopy that runs the length of the building along Graham Avenue and wraps around to cover the front entrance.  The anticipated exterior finishes of the building are black stone, glass (including some stained glass) and copper (or similar finish) accents on select portions of the building.  The exterior also includes an approximately 15-foot-wide patio area that runs along the Chippewa River (west) side of the building.

Major design elements

Large theater

The Confluence Arts Center’s large theater design is for a traditional proscenium-style theater that will provide fixed seating for 1,200 and standing-room only seating for approximately 1,500. The standing-room only configuration will be made possible through the removal of seats on the orchestra level of the large theater directly in front of the stage. The removable seats will be high quality and will be mounted on carts that can be stored in an area directly below the large theater. Once the seats are removed, the standing-room-only section will be a flat floor.

The large theater will have one main balcony and also box-style balcony seating extending along the sides of the theatre. 

The stage of the large theatre measures 40 feet by 80 feet (approximately twice as large as the stage at Eau Claire’s State Theatre) and will accommodate large orchestral and choral groups, dance ensembles, major theatrical productions, music concerts and other performances. The large theater will be equipped with state-of-the-art theatrical and sound equipment to support a wide array of performances.

The large theater is designed to function both as a concert hall and theater that will support nonamplified and amplified music performances.  This dual use will be accomplished through the incorporation of a sound shell that will match the interior of the theatre when in the concert hall configuration and a curtain-draped proscenium (including an orchestra pit) opening used during theatrical or other productions.

Flexible theater

The flexible theater design will provide seating for up to 400 in a variety of seating configurations. The flexible theater will have fixed seats that can be installed or removed on a track system similar to bleachers (except the attached seats will be high-quality seats similar to fixed theatrical seating). The flexible theatre has balcony seating on three sides.

The floor of the flexible theater will be flat and able to accommodate seating arrangements such as theater in the round, thrust or other nontraditional configurations (cabaret style, for example). 

The interior of the flexible theater will have an industrial feel, with exposed red brick or block walls and the theatrical equipment clearly visible to audience members.

The theater will be unlike any performance space currently available in the Eau Claire region, resembling those typically found only in larger metropolitan areas, and will provide artistic directors and performers myriad options for staging of productions.

Lobby

The lobby of the arts center will be adjacent to the planned public plaza at the corner of Eau Claire Street and Graham Avenue between the arts center and mixed-use Haymarket Landing building currently under construction. The lobby will serve both the large and flexible theaters and will be large enough to accommodate simultaneous performances in both theaters. The multi-story lobby will face north and will have expansive views of the Chippewa River that will be visible through a large wall of windows.

Estimated price of arts center increases

When the Confluence Project was first announced in May 2012, it was estimated the arts center would cost approximately $51 million. That original estimate was based on a number of funding sources, including a request of $25 million from the state of Wisconsin. When Gov. Scott Walker announced in January 2015 that he would include $15 million in state funding for the project in his proposed budget, project partners made modifications to the original arts center concepts in an effort to design a $40 million project. When that decision was made, partners also indicated that the design could not compromise the overall vision, mission and functionality of the arts center.

The arts center as designed meets the stated and demonstrated needs of UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, local arts organizations and Visit Eau Claire.  It also provides sufficient flexibility to accommodate future educational and other programming growth not currently envisioned.

To fully understand the estimated cost of constructing the arts center as designed, a detailed cost estimate was performed. Based on that estimate, the current cost of the arts center is $45 million.

Project partners have made the determination that, rather than make significant and, in their estimation, ill-advised reductions to overall square footage, or eliminate critical building features, they will pursue more funding sources to meet the additional $5 million cost.

No request for additional funding from city, county or state grant

The current identified funding sources and amounts for the arts center are:

  • $5 million, city of Eau Claire
  • $3.5 million, Eau Claire County
  • $15 million, state of Wisconsin non-agency grant
  • $13.5 million, philanthropy
  • $3 million, new market tax credits.

Project partners will not seek any additional funding from the city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County or the state of Wisconsin grant. Instead, they will increase the philanthropy goal by an amount still to be determined, seek donated or discounted building materials and in-kind construction-related services, and pursue additional grants and funds from foundations and other sources known to contribute to projects similar to the Confluence Arts Center. Naming rights for the overall arts center building and other facilities within the arts center also are available for individuals or entities interested in such opportunities.

Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc. takes over lead role

As the Confluence Arts Center project moves forward to final design and construction, the non-profit group formed to construct and own the building is taking over the lead role. Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc. now owns the land on which the arts center will be constructed, will manage the project going forward and will own the building when completed.

The following is information about Eau Claire Confluence Arts, the Confluence Council and other partners involved in the project as it moves forward:

Who’s who with the Confluence Arts Center as of Feb. 9, 2016

Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc. — the non-profit organization that now owns the land where the Confluence Arts Center will be built, will own the arts center and will be the owner contracting for the construction of the arts center. The organization’s membership includes two representatives from the city, one representative of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council Endowment Trust, one representative from Haymarket Concepts and up to nine community members who have expertise, experience and direct support of the project. Jerry Jacobson, CEO of Northwestern Bank), is the chair.  Jacobson’s contact information: ghj@northwesternbank.com, 715-723-4461.

Confluence Council — the organization that will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the arts center, staffing, scheduling, budgeting and the development of policies and procedures. Members of the Confluence Council include representatives from the city of Eau Claire, Visit Eau Claire, Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, arts groups, UW-Eau Claire and the community. Vicki Hoehn, vice president of community engagement for Royal Credit Union, is the chair. Her contact information: vickih@rcu.org, 715-833-8246.

Market and Johnson — the construction manager at risk that will oversee all construction-related activities and represent/work for the owner of the arts center. All construction activities will be competitively bid. Matt Faulkner, executive vice president of Market and Johnson, is the primary contact. His contact information: mfaulkner@market-johnson.com, 715-832-8989.

Commonweal Development Corp. — the development and construction consultant working directly for Eau Claire Confluence Arts to provide day-to-day coordination of all activities related to the construction of the arts center, provide construction and budget oversight, and ensure delivery of a finished product. Dan Clumpner, principal at Commonweal Development Corp., is the primary contact. His contact information: dclumpner@commonwealdc.com, 715-832-8707.

Philanthropy — The UW-Eau Claire Foundation and Eau Claire Community Foundation are the entities receiving private gifts designated for the Confluence Arts Center. The contacts for all fundraising-related matters are Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation (waykk@uwec.edu, 715-836-5180), and Sue Bornick, executive director of the Eau Claire Community Foundation (suebornick@eccommunityfoundation.org, 715-552-3801).