State committee pulls confluence funding

Local legislators working to get it back or find solutions

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Local legislatures are canvassing their colleagues to get the Confluence Project money back into the budget after the Joint Finance Committee voted it out last week.

The Committee pulled an expected $15 million grant from the operating budget, leaving plans for the $40 million dollar performing arts center in limbo.

Mike Rindo, UW-Eau Claire assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said project backers are now looking at other forms of funding, including other areas of the state budget.

He said the cut was certainly “a setback” for the project, but something they are trying to work through.

“We’re still working on securing funding from the state,” Rindo said. “The budget process continues.”

While Gov. Walker had included the funding in the budget to begin with, and has the ability to deny a budget when it goes to him for approval, most of his substantial power is in his ability to remove specific parts of the budget.

The final budget will be ready at the end of June, so local supporters and legislators have about a month and a half to get money for the project back in the works.

Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid said local legislators are working in a bi-partisan effort to push the project.

While one of the proposed solutions for the lack of funds is to put the project on the back burner, Kincaid said that would be the wrong move for the community and project.

“There is a local effort that is strong and committed and excited,” Kincaid said. “And the Joint Finance’s suggestion that we wait until the 2017-19 biennium is not practical for the project.”

The university is also examining other options to provide a performing arts center for UW-Eau Claire, whether or not it is included in the budget.

Rindo said that was their highest priority, and Monday held an open house to show some of the other options, which were part of a pre-design study of a renovation and possible expansion of Haas Fine Arts center.

The study delivered two potential outcomes: one of possibilities for the future if the University is part of the Confluence Project and another if it isn’t.

“We are working on more than one solution here,” Rindo said. “We have been working diligently as a partner with the Confluence and while we really believe that it would be the best project to meet our needs … we also have to understand that if it didn’t go through we want to make sure we have another option.”