UPDATE: Walker’s budget will include $15M for Confluence

Tom Giffey

The Confluence Project: Gettin' there.
The Confluence Project: Gettin' there.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday that the state budget he’ll unveil next week will include $15 million for a proposed performing arts center that would be part of the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire.

The pledge drew applause from a delegation of Eau Claire-area leaders who were visiting Madison to advocate for the region’s interests as part of the annual Chippewa Valley Rally. Backers had been seeking $25 million from the state for the project, but the $15 million commitment was nonetheless received positively in social media posts from supporters, including UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James C. Schmidt and the Community for the Confluence citizens group.

Walker said that $15 million in the budget would be pledged to match money raised locally for the project, making it essentially a “challenge grant,” he explained. “We think that’s a solid, fiscally sound way to do that going forward,” he added. “I think it’s just sound policy, but I also think it makes it easier to keep it in through the legislative process.”

The 2015-17 budget, which Walker will formally introduce Tuesday, must be passed by both houses of the state Legislature and signed by Walker by June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Because legislative approval is required, the governor urged Confluence supporters to continue to make their case for the project to lawmakers. “It’s in (the budget), but make sure that you continue to lobby folks, because that doesn’t meant that just because I put it in next Tuesday that it will stay in forever,” he said.

According to a press release from Walker’s office, “Confluence Project fundraisers must raise their entire portion of the project cost before state money will be released.” Roughly enough to meet Walker’s $15 million threshold has already been committed locally: About $6 million (of a hoped-for $13 million) pledged from private donors, $5 million from the city of Eau Claire, and $3.5 million from Eau Claire County.

The Confluence Project includes plans for a $50 million performing arts center that would be shared by UW-Eau Claire and community groups as well as a roughly $25 million privately built commercial and residential structure next door. (The latter project is already underway on South Barstow Street.)

Walker had previously voice his support for the Confluence Project, as did the UW System Board of Regents last summer. In his announcement Wednesday, Walker said the $15 million would come from the state’s general fund – not the university or capital projects portions of the two-year state budget.