Local affiliates answer questions on Confluence Project


Story by Nicole Miller, Staff Writer

Justin Vernon, Grammy Award-winning artist and UW-Eau Claire alumnus, used his notoriety to rally local support for the Confluence Project last week.

Last Thursday at Volume One, he was joined by Zach Halmstad, founder of JAMF Software, and Chancellor James Schmidt to discuss the local project and answer questions from the media
and community.

Vernon said he was chiefly concerned with getting the support needed to move on with the project.

The proposed $77.2 million project would bring a community arts center to downtown, as well as university student apartments and a multi-use building with 27,000 sq. feet of space for restaurants and studios.

If the project goes through, about ten percent of students will be housed in the university student apartments Schmidt said.

“The university has a chronic housing shortage,” he said. “If  (students) can’t have a safe, clean, available space, they’re going to look at institutions that can do it. It’s very much a competitive issue for me as chancellor.”

The apartments will be located about a mile from campus making distance a potential problem for students. However, he said students want choices.

“I wouldn’t want to walk up that hill again ever,” Vernon said. “No, the hill’s cool, maybe.”

Vernon and Halmstad expressed excitement about the bike-trail system as a way for students to commute from their apartments to campus.

“It’s far away, but we have an amazing bike-trail system here in Eau Claire,” Vernon said. “You can get on it right there and go all the way to campus right along the river the whole way.”

The proposal also includes the construction of a 450-seat theater to replace Kjer Theatre, a 1,200-1,500-seat theater to replace The State Theatre and a 250-seat black box space for flexibility in programming and revenue generation. There’s also space for studios, a gallery, rehearsal space, classrooms, offices and
storage areas, according to the plan.

The community arts center would be shared by the university and performing arts organizations of the community.

“Talking to our students, they are very excited about this,” Schmidt said. “It won’t be limited to students studying in the arts, but in particular those that are interested in the arts and the upperclassmen.”

Vernon, front man for the band Bon Iver, said he would be playing in Eau Claire a lot more if the Confluence Project becomes reality.

“I’d be creating new projects based on the spaces available,” Vernon said.

Halmstad, also an Eau Claire native, said his company announced six months ago that it will donate $500,000 as a down payment on the project. Vernon also said he plans on making a donation when the time is right.

“When it makes sense,” Vernon said. “When we get farther along, I’d like to make some kind of financial contribution.”

Support from the city, county and local philanthropic community is needed to proceed to the next part of the process, Schmidt said.

“There’s a time frame where we need to get up to Madison and make our case to the governor, the state legislature and frankly, even the University of Wisconsin system,” he said. “Time is beginning to slip away, I don’t believe there’s a firm deadline where it’s go or no go, because I don’t know the number. It eventually gets there.”