Theater Development

It's Official: Eau Claire’s New Downtown Arts Center Has a Name (UPDATED)

Tom Giffey, photos by Lee Butterworth, Market & Johnson |

Interior construction on the newly named Pablo Center at the Confluence. Image: Lee Butterworth Photography
Interior construction on the newly named Pablo Center at the Confluence. Image: Lee Butterworth Photography

Chippewa Valley, say hello to Pablo.

With a $5 million donation, a newly formed philanthropic foundation has secured naming rights for downtown Eau Claire’s new performing arts center: The Pablo Center at the Confluence will be the official name of the $60.5 million facility, which is scheduled to open in September. The investment by the Pablo Foundation, a philanthropic arm of Pablo Properties, was announced Feb. 16 at a media event in Eau Claire.

“This arts center being built is a catalyst for everything that’s going on in downtown Eau Claire,” said Zach Halmstad, one of the founding board members of the Pablo Foundation. That includes the formation of Pablo Properties – which, among others things, built the Jamf office building next to Phoenix Park and was involved in remodeling and reopening two downtown hotels.

The joint community-university effort to build a performing arts center overlooking the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers was dubbed the Confluence Project when it was announced in 2012, and the building that is now rising has generally been called the Confluence Arts Center. However, naming rights were available to a $5 million donor, said Jason Jon Anderson, the center’s acting executive director.

The Pablo Center at the Confluence released this special video Friday

The Pablo name will join those of other businesses who have made major gifts toward the arts center, including Royal Credit Union, Jamf, physicians from Oakleaf Surgical Hospital, Market & Johnson, Orgel Wealth Management, Lasker Jewelers, BMO Harris Bank, and Commonweal Development Corp. Twenty-seven other naming opportunities remain for those who donate between $100,000 and $500,000. Anderson said that additional philanthropy, coupled with grants, should fill the $7.2 million gap that remains to fully complete the arts center, including lighting and audio equipment and furniture.(The arts center’s final price tag has fluctuated. Previously, it was stated as $45 million, but that figure was for what would have essentially been an empty shell of a building without the necessary equipment, Anderson explained.)

The project is quickly moving toward another major announcement: As early as Feb. 22, the Confluence Council – the body that will operate the center – expects to announce the hiring of an executive director for the Pablo Center, said Brady Foust, a member of the council’s board of directors. Anderson has filled the role on an interim basis since October, when the originally hired executive director, Kevin Miller, resigned.

Pablo Properties and the Pablo Foundation were created by Halmstad, Julia Johnson, and Jason Wudi, all of whom are affiliated with Jamf, the successful Eau Claire-born software firm. Halmstad, Jamf’s co-founder, said the Pablo Foundation will focus its philanthropic efforts on housing, health, education, and the arts in the Chippewa Valley. Donating $5 million to the Confluence is its first major step toward that vision of community improvement.

Image: Market & Johnson
Image: Market & Johnson

“The overall goal is creating a healthy and sustainable community – to help close opportunity gaps and help individuals be successful,” Johnson said.

The Pablo Properties’ donation – coupled with previous donations by the trio and their affiliated businesses – makes them the largest single contributor toward the project other than the state of Wisconsin, which budgeted $15 million. Other funding comes from the city and county of Eau Claire, new market tax credits, and private philanthropy. The Confluence Project itself, launched in 2012, drew together UW-Eau Claire, community arts groups, local governments, the business community, and individual donors.

“We’re proud to have our name as part of (the arts center), but really it’s the Confluence Project that made it possible,” she added.

Jerry Jacobson, a member of the board of Eau Claire Confluence Arts Inc., the nonprofit that owns the building, said he was pleased that “Confluence” name will remain part of the facility’s moniker. He said he hopes that inspires other businesses and entities located where the rivers meet to refer to their locations as “at the Confluence,” too.

“We hope that the name serves the project well,” Halmstad added. “We are going to have to get used to it.”

Image: Market & Johnson
Image: Market & Johnson

So who’s Pablo? Halmstad, who was a music major at UW-Eau Claire before he started his software firm, said the property company was named after his favorite record label. Starting in the 1970s, Pablo Records put out albums by jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughan – a heritage that fits well with Eau Claire’s status as a jazz hub. And, indirectly, the name comes from that of another legendary artist: Pablo Records was named in honor of Pablo Picasso, as fitting a figure as to inspire an artistic project.

Learn more about the Pablo Foundation and Pablo Properties at