Tearing Down, Then Building Up

grant will fund first work at Sonnentag Complex site

Tom Giffey

FIRST LOOK. This rendering by Ayres Associates shows the ponential site plan for the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex in Eau Claire.
FIRST LOOK. This rendering by Ayres Associates shows the potential site plan for the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex in Eau Claire. See a bigger version.

Work on the future site of a UW-Eau Claire event and recreation complex will begin by the end of the year with the demolition of 12 buildings on the property between Menomonie Street and the Chippewa River, the Blugold Real Estate Foundation says.

The news came as part of a series of announcements at a June 22 press conference about the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, which will be built on the former site of County Materials Corp., which the Sonnentag family donated to the university-affiliate foundation in 2014. Another big piece of news: The Blugold Real Estate Foundation also announced that the first building on the site will be called the Big River Education Center, which will include – among other things – housing for up to 350 students; space for educational programs about the Chippewa River; a climbing wall; and a small, deli-style restaurant.

When it’s completed, the Sonnentag Complex will also include a major event center with a capacity of as many as 5,000 people as well as and wellness, recreation, and fitness facilities built in collaboration with the Eau Claire YMCA and Mayo Clinic Health System.

The work will be kick-started in part by a $500,000 Idle Sites Redevelopment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which was announced at the press conference by Mark Hogan, the state agency’s secretary and CEO.

“The project will truly transform what is now an underutilized section of riverfront property into a multipurpose development that will meet the wellness, the educational, and the social needs of not just Eau Claire but the entire region for generations to come,” Hogan said.

The WEDC grant (which was given to Eau Claire County) will be combined with a previously announced $400,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant (which was given to the Blugold Real Estate Foundation) to begin clearing the site and removing contaminants by the end of the year. Demolition will begin with the former Student Transit buildings on the property’s east end.

UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt said the completed complex will be a destination for entertainment and athletics in close proximity to the existing facilities at Carson Park and the Hobbs Municipal Ice Center. “Can you imagine five years from now when these projects are completed, and hotels begin to go up, restaurants being to go up? Imagine what it’ll do to the west side of Eau Claire as you go down Clairemont Avenue,” he said.

Schmidt and others highlighted the collaborative nature of the project, and lauded the participating entities for moving beyond purely transactional partnerships. “What we’re seeing is a whole new breed of philanthropy and partnership where we have each other’s interests at heart,” Schmidt said. “We come to a place like this and imagine what we could create together in a sense of abundance, as opposed to ‘What’s going to be my share?’ ”

After the ground is cleared, work on the Big River Education Center will start next spring with potential completion by August 2019. Hoeft Builders of Altoona will be the construction manager for the project. “The goal is to provide another creative housing option for students to address the university’s continuing need for student housing,” said Kimera Way, executive director of the Blugold Real Estate Foundation.

Meanwhile, plans are still coalescing for the Sonnentag Center itself, which will offer seating for 4,500 to 5,00 people. The facility likely will house UWEC men’s and women’s basketball and men’s hockey, as well as concerts, festivals, conventions, athletic tournaments, and more.

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