Donors pledge $675K to Confluence, put total over $5M

Tom Giffey

Votes in next Tuesday’s referendums alone won’t build the Confluence Project: The proposed development needs dollars, too. And on Thursday, Community for the Confluence announced a slew of donations for the project just in time to secure a $250,000 matching grant from Charter Bank.

Back in February, Charter promised to match up to $250,000 in new pledges of $25,000 or more made by March 31. The newly announced pledges, which will leverage the quarter-million from Charter, include $100,000 from Northwestern Bank; $100,000 from Bon Iver/Justin Vernon; and a total of $225,000 from a number of anonymous donors. Combined with the matching money from Charter, that’s a total of $675,000 toward the performing arts center portion of the Confluence Project.

“We’re very pleased to see such positive and generous response to Charter Bank’s matching gift challenge of $250,000,” Paul Kohler, president of Charter Bank, said in a press release. “The commitments from businesses and individuals demonstrate the broad base of support for the Confluence community arts center and hopefully add important momentum to the philanthropy expectation for the center. When all areas of our community work together on a common goal, we can accomplish tremendous things.”

Jerry Jacobson, president of Northwestern Bank, added that his bank’s board unanimously supported the pledge. “We believe this project is great for all of the Chippewa Valley, not just Eau Claire and the university," Jacobson said in a press release. “Everyone in the region will benefit and for many, many years. This is an investment in the future, and that’s what we here at Northwestern Bank are all about. It’s a pleasure to be a part of something so transformational.”

The roughly $50 million downtown performing arts center would be shared by community arts groups and UW-Eau Claire, and the community is responsible for half of its cost. About $15 million of the community’s $25 million share is expected to be raised from donors. With the new pledges of $675,000, total philanthropy has exceeded the $5 million mark, said Community for the Confluence, a group comprised of the project’s backers.

The Confluence Project also will include a $26 million building that will include commercial and retail space as well as student housing. This mixed-use building will be privately financed.

The donations could become a moot point, however, depending on the outcome of a pair of referendums on Tuesday. Eau Claire County voters will choose whether to pledge $3.5 million in taxpayer funds toward the performing arts center. The referendum for city of Eau Claire voters is more complex: If approved, it would require a separate, second referendum anytime the city seeks to spend $1 million or more on a performing arts facility. This would jeopardize the $5 million already pledged by the City Council last fall, which is why Confluence supporters are campaigning for a “no” vote on the city referendum.