Five years after unveiling plans for a major event and recreation center, UW-Eau Claire officials plan to begin moving dirt this month.
Preparation of the site along Menomonie Street will pave the way for construction of the planned Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex to begin next summer, Chancellor James Schmidt told the Leader-Telegram on Tuesday. The land was donated to Blugold Real Estate Foundation in 2014 by UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag.
Plans call for the proposed $90 million to $100 million complex to include an athletics and recreation facility that would replace UW-Eau Claire's 68-year-old Zorn Arena, a new Eau Claire YMCA and a sports medicine center operated by Mayo Clinic Health System. It would be a public-private partnership, much like the Pablo Center at the Confluence that opened downtown in 2018.
"Like Pablo, we all get something more than we would have gotten if we'd done it alone," Schmidt said.
The UW-Eau Claire event facility, which would host Blugolds men's and women's basketball games and other large gatherings, is envisioned to have a seating capacity of 4,100, which is significantly smaller than the target of 7,500 to 8,000 people discussed when the concept was first announced in August 2014.
The scaled-down vision is the result of the "painful" process of assessing needs and ensuring the complex is affordable to build and operate, Schmidt said, adding that the goal is for the university to fund its portion, estimated at $40 million to $45 million, through philanthropic donations.
A campus referendum is planned in April for students to vote on using student fees to pay for future operations of the building.
UW-Eau Claire officials are scheduled to present an update on the project Thursday to the UW System Board of Regents' Capital Planning and Budget Committee.