Monday, June 25, 2018

Opinion

Arts center fundraising needs final push

“It’s up to you!” reads a brochure circulated by the Community for the Confluence, a group drumming up private support for the proposed $40 million Confluence Performing Arts Center in downtown Eau Claire.

More than ever, those words ring true.

This project has jumped through more hoops than a dog at a kiddie circus, but barring some unforeseen barrier, all that stands in the way of a ground-breaking ceremony in 2016 is another $4.5 million in donations to reach the goal of $13.5 million.

Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and a key player in the fundraising effort from the start, said last week she is optimistic the private fundraising goal can be met. She said some have withheld pledges until the state committed $15 million to cover UW-Eau Claire’s portion of the project. That happened last Sunday when Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2015-17 state budget with the funds intact.

That completes the public sector commitment that also includes $5 million from the city, $3.5 million from the county and an expected $3 million in new market tax credits. 

There are two reasons this project has cleared every hurdle so far despite a certain amount of sniping and negativity. First, the partnership enables the university, regional arts patrons, and city and county government to build something really special that none of the entities could accomplish on their own. Second, after decades of malaise, a can-do attitude has spurred a rebirth in downtown Eau Claire. Public and private investment in the North Barstow Redevelopment District opened a lot of eyes in this community to what can happen when people stop talking about what might be and actually start moving dirt.

That can-do attitude on the other side of the Eau Claire River got a much-needed jolt when a group of investors led by JAMF Software co-founder Zach Halmstad committed some $16 million to completely gut and renovate the former Ramada Convention Center into The Lismore, which is scheduled to open early next year.

The other large building site near the hotel is the $26 million Haymarket Landing mixed-use building also under construction. The city also has plans to build an adjacent $2 million public plaza that would include a riverfront trail and public gathering place.

Downtown Eau Claire has come a long way since RCU kick-started things by building its new headquarters at the confluence of our two rivers. And now, we’re $4.5 million short of putting another huge piece into place. Many major donors already have committed, including a recent $1 million pledge from the doctors at OakLeaf Medical Network.

A vibrant, exciting transformation of downtown Eau Claire is no longer a pie-in-the-sky vision existing only on blueprints and in focus groups. It is a reality, and we’re getting ever closer to a major accomplishment that will benefit the region for generations to come.

If you haven’t made a pledge yet, give it some thought. It’s late in the fourth quarter, and now it truly is up to us.

— Don Huebscher, editor


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