The spotlight is coming on for the new Pablo Center at the Confluence. But with just over a month until its opening celebration, there’s still work to be done.
Contingent upon a final inspection Aug. 17, the Pablo’s executive director Jason Jon Anderson said they are on track to have the Pablo Center staff as well as UW-Eau Claire’s theater department, which will have offices, classrooms and a scene and costume shop in the new building, move into their new homes Aug. 20. They will be ready to hold classes at the beginning of the school year Sept. 4, and Market & Johnson, the construction firm behind the Pablo Center, will have all audio, visual and electric systems completed by Sept. 14.
“To walk through the building and see the workers cleaning and polishing floors and windows and getting ready, it feels really great,” Anderson said. “After Sept. 14, all systems will be completely functional and then it’s our building.”
Because the team has been active in reviewing the work as it’s being done, Anderson said he is confident the building will pass the final inspection Aug. 17. Still, he acknowledged, “surprises do happen.” If that were the case, he said that would delay the staff’s move into the building, but they would work with the inspector to fix whatever issues were found and aim to open before UW-Eau Claire’s classes start.
After Market & Johnson moves out Sept. 14, Anderson said they will have one week to prepare for their opening celebration slated for Sept. 22, and Anderson said they will be ready.
That celebration was scheduled to take place, in part, on Haymarket Plaza between the Haymarket Landing building and the Pablo Center, but Anderson said final work on the plaza is, as of his latest update, scheduled to continue until October or November. That work is being funded by the city.
The Haymarket pedestrian bridge, however, is ahead of schedule, so the plan is to create a path from the bridge to the Pablo’s main entrance, which will be facing the plaza.
“The plaza is slated to have concrete poured to our main entrance three days prior to our grand opening, and that takes two days to cure,” Anderson said. “We’re making our own plans to have most guests enter the building on our Gibson Street entrance as opposed to the grand entrance if for some reason the plaza construction is delayed.”
While the building and the bridge are ahead of schedule, Anderson said behind the retaining wall, where they had to raise 15 to 21 feet of fill to be above the floodplain, things are more complicated. They are still working on installing utilities, grading and pavers.
In order for everything to match, he said they also have to pour and stamp the concrete at the exact same time. Otherwise, he said it will dry a different color.
“From our perspective, we’d be very happy if it was concluded before the winter months,” he said, “but we understand construction doesn’t always go as planned.”
Until the plaza is completed, he said the Pablo Center staff and construction crews will work together to create a good experience for patrons attending the season’s first shows. He is aware of creating a “paramount experience” for all patrons, especially if it is their first time accessing the arts in downtown Eau Claire.
“We have multiple entrances to the building, so that’s not a problem, but we do want the best experience for our patrons,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to lose them in their first experience because the building was challenging to gain access to.”
Brenna St. George Jones, director of artistic programming for the Pablo, said she’s not worried about that. Whatever comes their way, they will make sure to create a grand experience. Walking into a building that cost more than $59 million and features state-of-the-art equipment, she doesn’t think that will be difficult to do.
While the plaza may not be complete, there are plenty of other “happy surprises,” she said. For example, she and the rest of the staff were given mock-up examples of the floors and walls in the theater spaces, but walking into them for the first time was an entirely different experience.
“The blue walls in the RCU theater, when I saw the mock-up I was a little hesitant,” St. George Jones said. “But you get in there, and they are these riveted panels and different shades of blue, and it’s gorgeous.”
The final cost for the Pablo Center, which was originally estimated around $45 million, sits at around $59.89 million. That price increased in April after contingency costs to make adjustment to the structure, adding equipment and construction changes, among other items. Several design and development costs also weren’t included in the orginal price tag.
Those funds were made up by a $5 million donation by the Pablo Foundation, tax credits and donations.
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