Monday, June 25, 2018

Opinion

This is what’s possible when we pull together

After nearly four years of meetings, referendums, negotiations with legislators and many other peaks and valleys, one hardly knows whether to feel more excited or relieved upon seeing what the $45 million Confluence Arts Center in downtown Eau Claire is going to look like inside and out.

The project plans were unveiled Tuesday. One key revision is that the pricetag has increased $5 million over the previous target goal, which means the determined local fundraising effort will continue. The original fundraising goal of $13.5 million now stands at about $12.5 million. 

Another $5 million is a sizable hurdle, but Kimera Way, director of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, is confident the money can be raised, in both a revised fundraising goal of $15.5 million in direct donations and another $3 million to be sought through possible grants and in-kind contributions of equipment and materials. It was announced Tuesday that neither state nor local taxpayers will not be asked for more money.

Let’s hope the continuing fundraising efforts succeed, because based on Tuesday’s presentation, this building promises to be a gem for local, regional and national performers, all of UW-Eau Claire, and all from the Chippewa Valley and beyond who will enjoy events there.

The Confluence Arts Center will be a monument of sorts to the can-do spirit of the region. It will be a physical representation of community pride from all who are chipping in to make downtown Eau Claire and the greater Chippewa Valley better now and for the future. It’s about a community showing what is possible when government, business, nonprofits and regular folks all pull together toward a common goal.

The three-story, 130,000-square-foot arts center will be hard to miss. It will stand 86 feet at its tallest point, about the same height as The Lismore hotel. It will have 40-foot tall windows facing the new public plaza that will open up to the confluence of our two rivers. The 80-by-40-foot stage will be twice as large as the one at The State Theatre, and the center will include about $4.2 million in theatrical equipment and lighting.

The centerpieces will be two theaters, one seating up to 1,200 and the other about 400, and they can and will be used simultaneously. There also will be a room on the third level that can be used for smaller performances, with seating for about 200. Also in the plans are an art gallery; dressing rooms; rehearsal rooms; a recording studio; offices for university faculty, the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council and other user groups; classrooms and storage space. Visit Eau Claire also will move its headquarters and a storefront to the downtown building accessible from Graham Avenue. Special entryways behind the stage area will provide easy access for traveling productions to unload their equipment.

This truly will be a community arts center. The practice and performance areas will be shared by university and community artists and musicians. The state’s $15 million contribution is funding UW-Eau Claire’s portion of the project. City ($5 million) and county ($3.5 million) taxpayers are in for those respective amounts, and philanthropists and other donors large and small are working toward the revised $18.5 million overall private goal. Some $3 million in new market tax credits would complete the $45 million project cost.

This is all still on paper. Ground-breaking is targeted for late summer, with completion expected by mid-2018. 

Much has been written and said through the years about the “town-gown” divide, not just here but in many campus communities. This project has united us in a big way and is proof that collaboration creates opportunities that will make the campus and the community much stronger.

We’ve charted a new course for downtown Eau Claire, and this building will be its crown jewel. Talk has become action. Vision has become reality. New community leaders have emerged. We should all be very proud but at the same time determined to keep the momentum going. 

— Don Huebscher, editor 


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