A planned event center’s relationship with the city of Eau Claire cleared a significant, albeit early, hurdle this week.
The Eau Claire City Council voted unanimously to approve a nonbinding letter of intent that addresses its involvement in the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex. Details will be ironed out this spring, but the city is looking to contribute $6 million to $7 million for the project. Another $1.5 million could be added to make the facility energy independent.
“First and foremost is that we have a need in our community for a space that can accommodate bigger sporting events, bigger music productions and other things that come with that,” Councilman Andrew Werthmann said in a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Andrew Dowd.
Plans for the project on Menomonie Street are being fine-tuned, but it’s expected to have a total price tag in the neighborhood of $100 million. The facility will be home to UW-Eau Claire events, youth athletics and a Mayo Clinic Health System site.
The centerpiece of the complex is an event center. UW-Eau Claire officials were looking for it to seat 4,100 as a replacement for the aged Zorn Arena. But the city is looking to have that number pushed to 5,100.
“An event center of 5,000 seats or more will bring artists to the community that currently bypass us because we don’t have the facilities to host them,” Dale Peters, city manager, told Dowd in an earlier story.
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Venues of this size host a variety of events — youth tournaments, touring children’s shows and live theater. Out of curiosity, we conducted an informal, unscientific study on what national comedy and musical acts similar facilities are drawing.
A relatively quick perusal of cyberspace yielded the following (theater names are followed by location, seating capacity and select upcoming acts):
• Fox Theatre, Detroit; 5,048; Blue Man Group, Jay Leno.
• Marymoor Park, Redmond, Wash.; 5,000; Barenaked Ladies, Trampled by Turtles.
• Bob Carpenter Center, Newark, Del.; 5,000; Brett Young.
• Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, Boston; 5,000; Alice Cooper, Foreigner.
• Arizona Federal Theatre, Phoenix; 4,900-plus; Sarah McLachlan, Bill Maher, Harry Connick Jr.
• United Wireless Arena, Dodge City, Kan.; 5,300; Jeff Dunham, Everclear.
• Aragon Ballroom, Chicago; 5,000; Steve Aoki, Galantis.
• Bellco Theatre, Denver; 5,000; Alicia Keys.
In the region, Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul can hold slightly more than 5,000, while First Avenue in Minneapolis has a seating capacity of about 1,550. The latter, however, benefits from its reputation as a historic music venue.
Eau Claire may not have the population base of some of the aforementioned sites, but it is on an interstate that connects the Twin Cities to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. It’s difficult to imagine that at least some well-known acts wouldn’t stop over in Eau Claire to perform on the new stage.
Though the Sonnentag family, which provided the donation that launched the project several years ago, is eager to break ground, it remains to be seen how the city’s role ultimately plays out. As Councilman Jeremy Gragert said, “The letter of intent is really the beginning of the conversation.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor