The Best of Chippewa Falls Volume One's guide to the riverside city » Presented by Mason Companies, Leinie Lodge, Northwestern Bank, and Go Chippewa Falls


Look at What UWEC Has Planned for Its Huge New Arena/Rec Center

Tom Giffey |

An artist’s rendering shows a preliminary design concept for the  Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex.
An artist’s rendering shows a preliminary design concept for the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex to be built on land donated between the Chippewa River and Menomonie Street in Eau Claire. Closer look.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Confluence Project isn’t the only major collaborative, multiuse facility on the drawing board in Eau Claire. UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire YMCA are working together on an even bigger project, and now you can feast your eyes on drawings of a major event facility and recreation center to be built between Menomonie Street and the Chippewa River. On Wednesday, preliminary renderings were unveiled of the John H. and Carolyn O. Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, which is slated for the former County Materials and Student Transit-Eau Claire site not far from Carson Park and the Hobbs Ice Arena.

The images, while far from final, provide an idea of what the huge complex will look like, both from Menomonie Street and the river. The plan includes a 130,000-square-foot major event center, which will seat 4,500 to 5,000 people (with a standing-room-only capacity of 6,000); a wellness, aquatics, and rec facility that would be shared by UWEC and the YMCA, with Mayo Clinic Health System partnering with them for programming; as well as plenty of parking and adjacent land suitable for private, complementary development.

Kimera Way, executive director of the Blugold Real Estate Foundation and the UWEC Foundation, said the design concepts were created to help with the fundraising process, “and also to help the community to see what our vision is, how we want to embrace the river.”

For decades, a major event center to replace UWEC’s outdated Zorn Arena has been on the Chippewa Valley’s wish list. The idea moved closer to reality back in August 2014, when John and Carolyn Sonnentag, both UWEC alums, and their business, County Materials, announced a donation of $10 million of money and property to the university. Since then, the Blugold Real Estate Foundation has taken ownership of the site and hired program management firm Brailsford and Dunlavey to conduct a market analysis.

View from menomonie Street. Image: UW-Eau Claire and Ayres & Associates.
The Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex renderings, as seen from Menomonie Street. Image: Ayres & Associates.
Closer look.

“To determine the size of the event center, it was important to first understand the market potential,” Way said. “Brailsford and Dunlavey interviewed stakeholders and potential users of the event center to determine what types and how many events it might host, then used benchmarking data from other venues and markets to recommend capacity ranges for the center.” Way acknowledges that some in the community have called for a facility that could seat 10,000 people or more, but she said the university has to focus on building an arena with a size the community can  sustain.

According to a press release, “The event center concept calls for a highly versatile design that would accommodate multiple types of events and activities, including serving as a home for UW-Eau Claire men’s and women’s basketball games, men’s hockey games, basketball and other athletics tournaments, large indoor concerts and other entertainment or sports events.”

Way said the Sonnentag Center could become a hub for university, community, and family activity. “Imagine any weekend scenario … where because of the versatility of what we’re envisioning, you could have a Marlins swim meet, an ice hockey tournament, and an AAU basketball tournament all at the same site,” Way said.

During the coming year, demolition and preparation work will begin on the site, which for decades has been used for concrete manufacturing and school bus storage. County Materials is transitioning its operations to another site, although its retail office will remain on Menomonie Street for the foreseeable future, Way said.

While there have been no additional financial pledges toward the project, the UWEC Foundation and the YMCA have had preliminary discussions with potential donors, Way said. “Please know that there’s a tremendous amount of work that’s gone on in the last year and a few months, and a lot of work ahead of us,” she said, adding the university hoped to begin building within five years.

The Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex as seen by birds.
The Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex as seen by birds. Closer look.