City bounces off ideas for a new convention center

Downtown Eau Claire may see another addition in the (somewhat) near future


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The proposed convention center would meet a variety of Eau Claire’s needs.

While UW-Eau Claire is planning the construction of the Sonnentag Complex — an all new sports facility — the City of Eau Claire is looking into the details for a convention center to be placed downtown.

The convention center would serve an array of purposes that could benefit both students and the community, as well as work in tandem with the Pablo Center, Linda John, the executive director of Visit Eau Claire, said.

The convention center’s main purpose would be as a meeting place and would have features such as banquet facilities, exhibit halls, breakout rooms and kitchen facilities, John said. She also said that it would be about 38,000 square feet and would accommodate anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 people.

John said about a year ago, a professional feasibility study was conducted to determine what features this facility would need to have in order to be attainable, and these features include a ballroom, flat floor space for exhibits and trade shows and a hotel attached to the building, which would have around 200 rooms.

Although this would be a brand-new facility, these are not new ideas. John said there has been talk of a need for a convention center within the Eau Claire community, since she first started her position 27 years ago. 

“I would say we are beyond just an idea phase, we’re at a ‘we need to figure this out’ (phase),” John said.

Cost is something that has yet to be determined, Dale Peters, the Eau Claire city manager, said. However, they are looking into both private and public funds. 

The reason for this center to be built is because of a study conducted about 10 years ago on the types of facilities from which the community would benefit, John said. According to John, the study found that the community wanted a performing arts center, an event center and a convention center. The Pablo Center is a performing arts center, the Sonnentag Complex will stand as the event center and all that is left is the convention center, John said.

Visit Eau Claire — which represents the hotel and tourism industry — has played a large part in the process of planning the convention center, Peters said. The facility would not only need to benefit the community, but the hotel and hospitality industry as well.  

“It is very instrumental in providing feedback and support for a convention space,” Peters said.

Jason Anderson, the executive director of the Pablo Center, used the Pablo Center as a reference for what the draw for a community center might be. In 2018, the Pablo attracted 80,000 unique guests, Anderson said. He also said that this year, they are on track to attract more than 110,000 unique guests, with 33 percent of website traffic coming from the Chicago area, and 15 percent of ticket purchases coming from the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. The mission of the Pablo Center is to be the premiere performing arts center in the upper Midwest, Anderson said. 

“I expect us to both support the local community but attract audiences from a greater driving distance,” Anderson said.

Eau Claire has many historical buildings and sites, and John said this history will not be encroached upon. She said buildings of historical significance are usually protected through landmark commissions and historical preservation organizations.

“As we develop new facilities in our community, that must always be done in consideration of preserving our past,” John said.

Plueger can be reached at [email protected]