YMCA Pulls Out of Sonnentag Center Project

Tom Giffey |

Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look.
Previous concept image for Sonnentag Center (Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater) | Click image for a closer look.

UWEC, Mayo Plan to Continue Plans for Multimillion-Dollar Event and Recreation Center on Menomonie Street

The Chippewa Valley YMCA will no longer be part of a collaboration to build a shared event and recreation complex on Menomonie Street spearheaded by UW-Eau Claire.

Eau Claire Community Complex Inc. – the nonprofit entity that plans to break ground next summer on the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex – announced Tuesday that it “has determined the facility is unable to proceed with the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA as a participant.” The $90 million to $100 million project will now undergo a “significant redesign,” backers say.

A “guiding principal” of the YMCA is not starting the project until its portion of the fundraising is largely complete, YMCA Executive Director Theresa Hillis said in a news release. The dearth of fundraising “raised concerns that significant capital debt could put the long-term fiscal well-being of the YMCA at risk to deliver on their mission,” the press release stated. It continued:

“As stated by the (Eau Claire Community Complex) Board, every partner in the project has its own needs, requirements, and governing policies. The current project timeline, and adhering to the principle that we cannot build what is not funded, led to the decision the YMCA is unable to proceed,” Hillis said.

ECCC also announced that, while the project is unable to proceed with the YMCA as a participant, the other project partners – UW-Eau Claire, Blugold Real Estate, and Mayo Clinic Health System – remain fully committed to the project.

The Sonnentag Complex project includes a multi-purpose major event center, a recreation and fitness facility, and Mayo Clinic Health System sports medicine, imaging and human performance clinic. As originally envisioned, the YMCA and UW-Eau Claire would have shared the recreation and fitness facility which was intended to replace the existing YMCA on Graham Avenue and expand recreation and fitness facilities for UW-Eau Claire. Because the project is unable to proceed with the YMCA as a participant, a significant redesign of the recreation and fitness facility component of the Sonnentag Complex project will be necessary. That redesign will begin immediately, according to Kimera Way, president of the ECCC Board.

“We entered into this project in good faith and have worked closely together on the programming and design of the Sonnentag Complex – all partners have great respect for the missions, visions and goals of each of the organizations involved. And we are hopeful we will have continued opportunities to pursue mutually beneficial initiatives in the future,” Way said.

Way, who also serves as president of the UWEC Foundation, added that the Eau Claire Community Complex’s board will continue to work with the UW System Board of Regents and Mayo Clinic Health System to redesign the project and gain the approvals needed to break ground on Menomonie Street by July 2020.

“John and Carolyn Sonnentag are rightfully anxious to see this project move forward,” Way said, referring to the alumni couple who are the project’s major donors. “They made their lead gift announcement in August 2014 and the ECCC board is committed to achieving their vision for this transformative project.”

Added UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt: “UW-Eau Claire has demonstrated needs for both an event center to replace Zorn Arena and expanded recreation and fitness facilities for our students. This project will fulfill those needs, will provide additional academic programming opportunities, and will enable the university and Mayo Clinic Health System to collaborate even more closely on important research and wellness programs that will benefit our campus, community and region.”