New building on the block

Major donation given to UW-Eau Claire foundation

UW-Eau Claire alumni made a major donation to develop a multipurpose events facility in downtown Eau Claire.

nearly 50 years after graduating from Eau Claire, John and Carolyn Sonnentag’s foundation made a donation worth $10 million of land and money on August 5 for the creation of a new events center.

The Sonnentag Foundation has committed to transfer ownership of land along Menomonie Street in Eau Claire to Blugold Real Estate of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

The land portion of the donation currently stands as County Materials Corporation, a concrete manufacturing business owned by the Sonnentags.

The university looks to gain more land as the Sonnentag Foundation will purchase the Student Transit Property in the future, which is nestled between Hobbs Ice Arena and the newly acquired County Materials land.

The “County Materials Event and Recreation Complex” will sit on 21 acres along Menomonie Street and add to the downtown Eau Claire sports area, essentially connecting Carson Park and Hobbs Ice Center.

While development of the center is still in the early stages, plans are being made to create the successor to Zorn Arena, the home of Blugold basketball since its construction in 1951.

The center is not only going to be a sports venue, it is also proposed to house a YMCA component and a student recreation component.

Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Martin Hanifin said the next big step is to determine how to finance a project of this caliber.

“We know this project has exciting components,” Hanifin said. “The financing for the project has to follow the design and content of the complex.”

The money donated by the Sonnentag Foundation was given with the primary purpose of funding for construction and the athletic component while the YMCA component would be funded by the YMCA.

Hanifin said the university is not expecting any taxpayer money for creation. Instead it is focusing on outside fundraising as well as student fees.

“Students are going to be involved, engaged and at the table as we go through this wonderful complex that will have direct benefits for the students,” Hanifin said. “We aim to create something with the students and will determine the financing then.”

To determine exactly what the student fees will be, Hanifin said Eau Claire has to have a detailed plan as to what will be built.

“We’ll look at what we want to build and if we can afford it, we’ll determine what form of student fees will successfully work with our student body,” he said.

Hanifin said the administration is excited for the opportunity to build a larger capacity arena for the Blugold basketball team, but it all comes down to whether the students are just as excited.

“We’re on a campus that’s very committed to having the shared participation of the students,” Hanifin said. “This will be a heavily used addition for the campus so we look forward to having students involved.”

The Sonnentag Foundation’s donation is the largest whole gift to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation ever.