UW-Eau Claire announces plans for new recreation center

Donation sparks movement for new venue to replace aging Zorn Arena

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Freelancer Symone Foster contributed reporting for this story.

UW-Eau Claire and its project partners announced plans for a multi-million dollar recreation and events complex on Menomonie Street Oct. 28.

The John H. and Carolyn O. Sonnentag Event and Recreation Center will be built on 25 acres of lakeside property donated to the university by John and Carolyn Sonnentag, Eau Claire alumni and owners of County Materials. The Sonnentags gifted $10 million to the university along with the County Materials property last December.

Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and executive director of university advancement, said the Sonnentags’ donation was the catalyst behind the new center’s development.

Way said the Sonnentags’ generosity allowed Eau Claire to pursue an updated, larger venue to replace Zorn Arena, a building she said has limited the university for decades.

“It just simply doesn’t meet our needs as a facility anymore,” Way said. “Our campus boundaries are so fixed, we have the river and we have the hill, and a wonderful historic neighborhood and we don’t have any place to go on our campus property and I think long term the university needs that space for more academic space.”

Way said the new complex will also be a community wellness facility and a recreation and aquatics center. Through partnerships with the YMCA and the Mayo Clinic Health System, Way said the County Materials complex presents not only an opportunity for the university but for the Eau Claire community as well.

The County Materials center will have capacity for five to six thousand people, Way said. She said this will help market Eau Claire throughout the Midwest and provide a place for large-scale sporting events the city historically hasn’t been able to support.

“(The center provides) an area where youth sports teams from the Twin Cities and the metropolitan area on the eastern part of our state (can compete)… we can become a hub from bringing in youth sports’ national competitions,” Way said, “those types of things that seem to be something that we’re good at doing, we just haven’t had the facilities.”

While Eau Claire students have expressed excitement regarding the new developments, few were aware of the plans for the new recreation center.

Way said the plan is for contractors to tear down the existing buildings, do soil remediation to the site and lay groundwork for the complex, starting in 2016.