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The Confluence Project: A bold public-private partnership

| Mike Rindo

More than 100 people gathered in downtown Eau Claire May 15 to hear the announcement of a public-private partnership project that, as the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram opined the following day, "if realized will be a game-changer that will transform downtown Eau Claire forever."

The Confluence Project includes construction of a new arts center to be shared by the community and UW-Eau Claire, a commercial/retail complex, and university student housing at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in downtown Eau Claire. The property, located less than a mile from campus, was acquired by Haymarket Concepts LLC, which is a partnership between Marcom LLC (Commonweal Development Corp. and Market &Johnson Inc.) and Blugold Real Estate LLC, a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

As envisioned, The Confluence Project's public-private partnership will plan and construct a community arts center of approximately 150,000 square feet that will serve the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council (ECRAC), community performing and fine arts organizations, and the university.

Preliminary plans for the community arts center include:

  • Three distinct performance spaces: a 1,200- to 1,500-seat theater to replace downtown Eau Claire's obsolete State Theatre;a 450-seat theater to replace UW-Eau Claire's aging Kjer Theatre;and a 250-seat black box-style venue
  • Scene and costume shops
  • Dressing rooms and other "back-of-house" operations
  • Fine arts studios, gallery space and dance studio space
  • Classrooms and rehearsal rooms
  • Offices for ECRAC, community arts organizations, and select university faculty and staff in the fine and performing arts

The performance spaces would be designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate a wide range of acts, including major touring Broadway-style productions that currently cannot be effectively staged in any existing venue in Eau Claire.

The mixed-use project would include commercial and retail space, parking and apartment-style housing for approximately 300 university students. The housing would serve as a living-learning community for upper-division music, theater and art students.

Based on concept drawings currently available, estimated cost of the community arts center is $50 million, and the current estimated cost of the mixed-use development project is $33 million. The project would be financed through a variety of private, philanthropic, state and local funding sources. The university is seeking UW System Board of Regents approval of $25 million in state-supported bonding for its portion of the arts center and $30 million in program-supported bonding for the student housing project.

The Confluence Project is consistent with the UW-Eau Claire 20-year Campus Master Plan, which includes partnering with the community to create a shared arts facility and develop an off-campus apartment-style residence hall in close proximity to campus. Both the Eau Claire City Council and the Board of Regents have unanimously passed resolutions supporting the project but have also identified a number of conditions that must be addressed before funding is approved.