The UW System Board of Regents has once again given a big thumbs-up to the Confluence Project. In a unanimous vote at their meeting Thursday in Oshkosh, the Regents directed System President Ray Cross to work with state officials to get funding for the joint university-community performing arts center included in the state’s 20015-17 budget. The money won’t come through the UW System’s part of the budget, however: Instead, it will be via what’s called the “non-state agency grant program,” which has been used to fund community projects statewide, such as Medical College of Wisconsin construction and a Green Bay convention center.
“This is great news and gives us a very defined direction as we proceed in the next steps to secure state funding for the Confluence Project, which has been the goal since the project was first announced in May 2012,” UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said in a press release. “We will work closely with UW System, our local partners and the Department of Administration to complete the nonstate agency grant application by the Sept. 12 deadline.”
The project earned praise from Regina Millner, vice president of the Board of Regents. “Based on my decades of experience in business, real estate and community leadership, I understand the power of the public-private partnerships,” she said, according to a press release. “They create jobs and stimulate the creation and expansion of other businesses. They directly and indirectly improve a region’s quality of life.
“The Confluence Project will turn a blighted industrial parcel into a vibrant, job-creating center of activity,” she added. “It will provide multiple benefits to the community and provide immediate and long-term benefits to the region’s economy. It will also leverage private-sector and philanthropic investments.”
While UWEC and its partners originally had considered pursuing funding for the project directly through the UW System budget, going the nonstate grant route became an option after it was suggested in June by Gov. Scott Walker, who endorsed the project.
The state’s share of the roughly $50 million performing arts center still must make it through the state budget process, including getting approval from the state building commission, the Legislature, and ultimately the governor (whoever that happens to be next year). The other half of the arts center’s cost will be funded by private donations and local government contributions. The arts center and an adjacent mixed-use development, which will include privately operated student housing, will be built on South Barstow Street.