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State budget includes $15 million for Confluence Arts Center

| Mike Rindo

The Confluence Arts Center, a collaborative effort between UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire community to build a new shared arts center, received a major boost in the 2015-17 state budget.

The budget includes a $15 million non-state grant for construction of the arts center at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in the heart of downtown Eau Claire.

The $40 million Confluence Arts Center will replace UW-Eau Claire’s Kjer Theatre and the community’s State Theatre, which are both considered obsolete. The new arts center will provide much-needed rehearsal, teaching and support space for the university’s theatre program and a significantly larger performance venue for its nationally renowned music program. The arts center also will be able to host concerts, performances and Broadway-style touring shows that no current campus or community venue can support.

“Improved performing and fine arts facilities are UW-Eau Claire’s highest academic building priority,” said Chancellor James Schmidt. “The $15 million investment by the state of Wisconsin represents tremendous value by providing UW-Eau Claire with significant and much-needed upgrades to our arts facilities at a fraction of what it would cost to build a similar facility on campus.”

The arts center is a key component of the overall Confluence Project, a unique public-private development in a blighted area of downtown Eau Claire. Planned on prime real estate at the confluence of the two rivers, it includes a privately developed mixed-use building consisting of first-floor retail and commercial space with a five-story apartment complex above housing up to 375 students; the shared university-community arts center; and a public plaza and pedestrian-bicycle pathway along the rivers. Total investment in the project, including the arts center, is estimated at $72 million.

“The decision to include funding in the budget affirms the innovative and collaborative nature of the Confluence Arts Center project — bringing together the campus, city and county, community arts organizations, philanthropists and the private sector to create a shared arts center that will be a catalyst for continuing the renaissance underway downtown,” Schmidt said.

“We are grateful to leaders of the city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, Chamber of Commerce, Community for the Confluence organizers, Clear Vision Eau Claire and other allies who helped make this transformative project possible,” Schmidt said. “I especially want to acknowledge the important work done by our area state legislators, which was key to having funding for the project included in the state budget.”

The non-state grant for the arts center construction includes a provision that it be matched by local funding sources. Those anticipated funding sources include:

  • $5 million, city of Eau Claire
  • $3.5 million, Eau Claire County
  • $13.5 million, philanthropy
  • $3 million, new market tax credits

Planned Confluence Arts Center venues and spaces include:

  •  a 1,200- to 1,500-seat theater, a 400-seat theater and a 250-seat flexible-use space
  •  visual arts studios and galleries
  •  scene, prop and costume shops; dressing rooms; and back-of-the-house operations
  •  dance studio, music instruction classrooms and rehearsal rooms

The facilities will be shared by UW-Eau Claire, Visit Eau Claire (convention and tourism bureau), the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council and community arts organizations.

The Blugold Real Estate Foundation, a supporting organization of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, is a major partner in the Confluence Project. The Blugold Real Estate Foundation will own the student apartment complex in the mixed-use building (called Haymarket Landing), which will help meet the high demand for additional student housing options identified in the 2010-30 Campus Master Plan. The UW-Eau Claire Foundation also has supported fundraising efforts for the community arts center.

“Our involvement in the Confluence Project is helping the university meet two critical needs: improved and expanded arts facilities and quality student housing,” said Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and executive director of the Blugold Real Estate Foundation. “This project represents the ‘new way’ the university and Foundation are partnering to improve the campus and the community by leveraging resources and avoiding duplication.”

The current project timeline calls for Haymarket Landing to be open and housing students in August 2016. Construction of the arts center is anticipated to begin in spring of 2016 with completion expected in fall 2017.

Haas Fine Arts Center, which has been the primary home of UW-Eau Claire fine and performing arts programs, will continue to serve that purpose for the campus and, as part of the Confluence Arts Center collaboration, will also be made available for use by community arts groups for events and performances.