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Preliminary Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex plans unveiled

| Mike Rindo

Preliminary design concepts for the John H. and Carolyn Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex were presented today at the site of the future development on Menomonie Street.

Today, representatives from the project partners, Blugold Real Estate Foundation (a supporting organization of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation), the Eau Claire YMCA, Mayo Clinic Health System and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire outlined the preliminary site plan and the size and capacity of the buildings that will comprise the complex.

As currently envisioned, the complex will include:

  • an approximately 130,000-square-foot major event center with seating to accommodate 4,500-5,000 and total capacity of 5,500-6,000;
  • YMCA, UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System wellness, aquatics and recreation facilities of approximately 150,000 square feet;
  • surface parking to serve the entire complex; and
  • land suitable for development of private businesses that could complement and serve activities at the event and recreation complex.

The size and capacity of the major event center is based on a market analysis that compared the Eau Claire market to venues in similar-sized cities and markets in the Midwest. The potential market to be served by the event center is approximately 330,000 people within a 60-minute drive of Eau Claire, said Kimera Way, executive director of the Blugold Real Estate Foundation.

The Blugold Real Estate Foundation engaged the Brailsford and Dunlavey firm to conduct the market analysis.

“To determine the size of the event center, it was important to first understand the market potential,” Way said. “Brailsford and Dunlavey interviewed stakeholders and potential users of the event center to determine what types and how many events it might host, then used benchmarking data from other venues and markets to recommend capacity ranges for the center.”

The event center concept calls for a highly versatile design that would accommodate multiple types of events and activities, including serving as a home for UW-Eau Claire men’s and women’s basketball games, men’s hockey games, basketball and other athletics tournaments, large indoor concerts and other entertainment or sports events.

The Eau Claire YMCA is partnering with the Blugold Real Estate Foundation in the Menomonie Street project to replace the current YMCA facility on Graham Avenue in Eau Claire. The YMCA brings into the project development its ongoing collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System. The two organizations have an agreement to work together in meeting the future health and wellness needs of the region.

In addition, UW-Eau Claire is conducting a comprehensive study of its recreation and athletics facilities to determine what functions should be incorporated into the Menomonie Street project to best serve student recreation and fitness needs.

“This partnership between the YMCA, Mayo Clinic Health System and UW-Eau Claire enables us to envision a seamless facility that serves YMCA members and university students while also minimizing duplication,” said Ken Van Es, YMCA executive director.“Through this unique collaboration, we will be able to maximize opportunities that have not been an option for us in the past, such as hosting basketball tournaments, swimming meets and other events at a single location currently lacking in Eau Claire.”

The UW-Eau Claire Foundation announced in August 2014 a commitment of approximately $10 million in money and land from UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag and County Materials Corporation for the Menomonie Street project. The gift was intended to help make possible the development of a facility where UW-Eau Claire and community organizations can hold larger-scale events than can be accommodated by the university's existing facilities.

The gift of approximately 25 acres along Menomonie Street — the site of the Sonnentags' concrete manufacturing company, County Materials Corporation, and Student Transit-Eau Claire — to the Blugold Real Estate Foundation was completed in December 2014. Student Transit has relocated to a new facility, while County Materials continues to operate on the site while it constructs a new retail building in Eau Claire.

The entire event and recreation complex development will fit within the land currently owned by the Blugold Real Estate Foundation.

Fundraising for construction of the event and recreation complex has not yet begun, but Way and Van Es said the preliminary design concepts will be helpful in explaining the project to prospective donors.

While a timeline for design and construction of the project is not yet defined, partners in the project will continue the planning process with the intention of proceeding with the project in the next few years, according to Way and Van Es.

Photo caption: An artist’s rendering shows a preliminary design concept for the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex.