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Plans move forward on Eau Claire’s Sonnentag Event and Recreation Center

Eau Claire (WQOW) — A project five years in the making is finally moving forward. UW-Eau Claire officials told News 18 on Tuesday that dirt will move this month for the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Center.

As News 18 reported in 2014, the land along Menomonie Street was donated to the Blugold Real Estate Foundation by UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag.

The idea for the project was first broached because the university identified a need to replace Zorn Arena, which is now 68 years old and becoming costly to operate.

While pursuing the replacement, the university picked up a few partners. The Sonnentag Event and Recreation Center will be a collaboration between UW-Eau Claire, the YMCA, and Mayo Clinic Health System.

The partners are using a similar model to the one employed during the planning and construction of the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

They are forming a new non-profit, the Eau Claire Community Complex. The non-profit will be responsible for the construction and design of the facility and will then lease the property out to the collaboration partners. The Eau Claire Community Complex board will be made up of representatives from UW-Eau Claire, the YMCA, Mayo Clinic Health System and other community members.

The YMCA will move its facilities into the complex, leaving its current location on Graham Avenue. Mayo Clinic will also house its sports medicine program facilities in the Sonnentag Center.

The Sonnentag Center will also be home to UW-Eau Claire men’s and women’s basketball games, UW-Eau Claire swimming and diving meets, area graduations, conferences and other big events.

“I think this will be a game-changer for the region. I think this will be yet another feather in the cap for everyone in the Chippewa Valley,” said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. “I’ve heard from a lot of business leaders from across the city that a big part of their recruiting in bringing people to the community is touring the Pablo, but I already know a number of people drive them past where this facility is going to be and point to what is going to be developed.”

The new complex will have seating for 4,100 people, far less than the 8,000 that was initially proposed in 2014. Schmidt cited an effort to keep costs down and evaluation of needs as the reason for the reduction.

Schmidt said construction will cost between $90-$100 million, with the university footing $40-$45 million of that bill. Schmidt said they hope to raise that money through donations.

The plan also leaves room for future development on the land. In the past, there has been a discussion of adding a conference center, restaurants or a hotel on the property.

The next step is to present the plan to the UW-System Board of Regents Capital Planning and Budget Committee on Thursday. A formal proposal will then be presented in December, with a final vote likely in June or July of 2020.

UW-Eau Claire students will also be presented with a referendum in April. They’ll be asked to approve the use of $300 a year in student fees to cover the operation costs of the facility.

If both those hurdles are cleared, the plan is to break ground on the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Center in the summer of 2020. Schmidt said construction would take between 18-24 months, with the goal of opening the facility in 2022. Later this month, crews plan to start removing dirt from the future work site in preparation for the project.

Stephen Kelley

Stephen Kelley joined the News 18 team in August 2006. He is currently the Executive Producer.

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