Council reveals plans for Confluence Art Center

Downtown complex will feature proscenium-style theater, recording studio



Partners of the Confluence Project unveiled plans for the $45 million art center during a press conference Tuesday held at the State Theater in downtown Eau Claire.

The Confluence Art Center will include a large proscenium-style theater with seating to hold between 1,200 fixed seats or approximately 1,500 in standing-room only seating. It will also feature art gallery space, lobby space overlooking the planned public plaza and a recording studio.

The new art center will contain rooms for city organizations including Visit Eau Claire and the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council as well as UW-Eau Claire faculty, staff and students, providing space and resources for the university’s music and theater programs.

This will bring a large number and variety of artists together, whether they are students, artists who do their work out of passion or those who can make a living from their art, Anne Sessions, executive director of the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild and a member of the Confluence council, said.

She said the new center would allow UW-Eau Claire students and members to access more programming than ever before.

“Art touches all of our lives,” Sessions said. “It’s something we take for granted. It’s something that’s part of our culture; it brings us all together.”

The Confluence Art Center was initially envisioned as a 175,000 square foot complex that would cost $51 million. As a result of building inflation, state budget cuts and unforeseen obstacles concerning the proposed location along the Chippewa River, the project was downsized to the current three-story, 130,000 square foot plan.

Jerry Jacobson, president of Confluence Art Inc., said the primary functions of the art center were protected by the partners even when large portions of the original plan were abandoned for lack of funding.

While the partners officially first convened on Nov. 19, 2014 and the plans were drawn over the course of ten subsequent meetings, Jacobson said partners were forming the beginnings of the Confluence Project before 2007 and the new art center fulfills aspirations members of the Eau Claire community have had for more than 40 years.

Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said the Confluence Project was one of the main factors that ultimately guided his decision to come to Eau Claire after he left his position as Vice President of Student Advancement at Winona State University in 2013.

He said the Confluence Project was a testament to the quality of the Eau Claire community and a coming period of rebirth for the city.

“Decades ago, cities turned their backs on the downtown,” Schmidt said. “Well, this generation has thought differently.”

The Confluence council identified five main sources of funding to meet the expected $45 million price tag for the new art center, according to a press release provided by the council.

– $5 million is to be funded by the City of Eau Claire.
– $3.5 million is to be funded by Eau Claire County.
– $3 million is to be garnered through new market tax credits.
– Gov. Scott Walker outlined $15 million to be set aside for the project from his latest state budget.
– Thomas Barland, co-chair of the fundraising committee, said the project raised $12.5 million through various donations. While the philanthropic goal originally stood at $13.5 million, he said new costs prompted the committee to raise the goal to $15.5 million.

Jacobson said the Confluence council hopes to break ground on the new art center next summer.