The Eau Claire County Board voted to contribute $3.5 million to the arts center portion of the Confluence Project by a 21-5 vote Tuesday night, subject to several contingencies.
The board had previously voted to contribute $3.5 million to the project in January 2014, but a few of the contingencies in that resolution were not met — most notably the project did not receive $25 million from the state. The state's biennial budget, passed this summer, designated $15 million for the project.
The Confluence has since been scoped down from a $50 million project to a $40 million project, but because the contingencies of the original resolution weren’t met, the board revisited the issue at its Tuesday meeting.
Some supervisors argued that because the state was contributing less than required by the first resolution, the county would be justified in contributing less.
Other supervisors noted that organizers of the project had originally requested $5 million.
In an April 2014 countywide referendum, voters supported contributing $3.5 million toward the project by a vote of 11,589 to 9,786.
Supervisor Gary Gibson of Fall Creek noted that the margin was only 1,800 votes and that towns on the eastern part of the county opposed it.
But many supervisors said the Confluence project has already had a positive effect on the downtown, including the purchase and renewal of a large hotel that nobody wanted, the location of JAMF software downtown, and, most recently, plans to revitalize the former Huebsch laundry and Wells Fargo buildings.
“This resolution simply reaffirms our pledge. It gives us a chance to keep our word,” said Supervisor Colleen Bates. “I can't recall in all of my years of living in Eau Claire that there has been this kind of philanthropic response that we’re seeing for this project at this time,” she said.
Supervisor Stella Pagonis said the project would benefit the entire county by increasing revenues from the sales tax, which offsets property taxes, by attracting more visitors to the area for events.
Dan Clumpner of Haymarket Concepts, the developer, said the number of theaters was reduced to two. The UW-Eau Claire lost some space for activities in the rescoping, he said. “We're not compromising what is going to be available to the patron experience,” he said.
The contribution is subject to contingencies including:
• Evidence of funding of at least $15 million from philanthropy and other private and public sources, which is needed as a match for the state grants
• Evidence of sufficient funding guarantees and reserves to ensure long-term operational sustainability.
• Successful negotiation and approval of funding of all the involved parties.
• Approval by the city of Eau Claire of all required zoning, site plans, parking plans and permits.