UWEC Suspends Sonnentag Centre Project Because of Pandemic
construction on multi-faceted event center was supposed to start this summer
UW-Eau Claire announced Friday that the Sonnentag Centre project, a collaborative effort to build a shared event and recreation complex in Eau Claire, is temporarily suspended, due to financial and logistical issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complex – which is to be built along Menomonie Street on land donated by alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag – is to include a 5,100-seat event center, a 24-hour fitness facility, a fieldhouse with artificial turf, academic space for UWEC’s kinesiology program, and a Mayo Clinic Health System clinical location.
The ground-breaking for the complex was supposed to happen this summer, but as of today, the project is put on hold. A referendum was to appear before the UWEC student body in the spring, but that too is postponed.
In a press release, the project's partners outlined a few other reasons for the suspension as well: the economic impact of the pandemic on hotels and tourism, fundraising challenges, and the complicated state of the health care industry at the present time.
Here’s the press release in full:
Sonnentag Centre project temporarily suspended
Friday, April 17, 2020 • Due to financial and logistical issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eau Claire Community Complex, Inc. has made the decision to temporarily suspend the Sonnentag Centre project.
The temporary suspension means groundbreaking for the Sonnentag Centre will not take place in summer 2020 as originally planned, said Kimera Way, president of Eau Claire Community Complex, Inc.
Sonnentag Centre partners, along with philanthropists and UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag, remain fully committed to the project and will revisit the suspension in the near future to determine when the project can proceed.
“We are so grateful for the Sonnentags and our wonderful partners who all agree this project is worth the wait,” Way said. “We want to do our best to attain the full vision of the project because of its tremendous potential for our partners and the community.”
The Sonnentag Centre, to be constructed on land along Menomonie Street adjacent to Hobbs Ice Center, includes a major event center with capacity of approximately 5,100, a fitness center, an indoor synthetic turf fieldhouse, and a Mayo Clinic Health System sports medicine and imaging clinic. Partners in the project include the Blugold Real Estate Foundation, a subsidiary of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Foundation; the city of Eau Claire; Visit Eau Claire; Mayo Clinic Health System; and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
As a result of the decision to temporarily suspend the project, pursuit of necessary approvals will be postponed. This includes a UW-Eau Claire student referendum that was scheduled to take place this spring. According to UW-Eau Claire student body president Charles Johnson, because the university is conducting classes exclusively online for the remainder of the spring semester, a student referendum this spring was not feasible.
"A key aspect of the education campaign about the Sonnentag Centre is face-to-face interactions with the student body,” Johnson said. “Providing students with opportunities to learn how this project will positively impact them is vital to the referendum process.”
A referendum will likely be held in the fall, Johnson said.
In addition to the inability to hold a student referendum, project partners noted other reasons for suspension such as the negative economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the hospitality industry, including hotels and associated hotel room tax revenue; fundraising challenges related to ongoing fluctuations and uncertainties in financial markets; and complications facing the health care industry during this time.
While the project is suspended, there will be some necessary demolition and earthwork done on the Sonnentag Centre site in the coming weeks, Way said.