Sonnentag Event Complex gains 1,000 seats

Eau Claire community assists the university to create a bigger event center

Robin Armagost

More stories from Robin Armagost

A new event center is coming to Eau Claire. Zorn Arena will step aside and the Sonnentag Event Complex will take its place. 

According to WEAU News, the nearly $100 million project announced in August 2015 was originally planned to have 4,100 seats, but will now have 5,100 seats, thanks to the new partnerships with Visit Eau Claire and the City of Eau Claire. 

Mike Rindo, the assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, acts as the university representative who works with the design and construction team: Ayres Associates, Kahler Slater and Market & Johnson.

According to Rindo, The Chippewa Valley YMCA also had been a partner in the project until the group made the decision in late 2019 that it could no longer participate. 

Since the YMCA announcement, there has been suggested additional changes to plans. The partners and constituents are in the process of making final decisions on the design. If all goes as planned, groundbreaking would happen in summer 2020 with an anticipated completion in summer 2022, Rindo said. 

“The university determined a capacity of approximately 4,100 would meet university needs and the City/Visit Eau Claire study indicated a capacity of more than 5,000 was needed to meet community needs,” Rindo said. 

According to Rindo, ever since the announcement of the project in 2015, Chancellor Schmidt has said the university would welcome a partnership with the city to increase the size of the event center to meet both the university’s and community’s need for concerts and other major events.

With the Eau Claire City Council approval of the letter of intent between UW-Eau Claire, Eau Claire Community Complex, Inc. Mayo Clinic Health System, City of Eau Claire and Visit Eau Claire, the parties will now work towards final plans for the complex and towards a formal development agreement to proceed toward final design and construction, Rindo said. 

“There are many additional steps in the process before the design is finalized and construction can commence,” Rindo said. “These steps include the creation of the development agreement between the partners, approval of a student referendum this spring to provide segregated fees for the university’s lease of the Sonnentag Complex from Eau Claire Community Complex, Inc., UW System Administration review and approval and Board of Regents approval.”  

David Minor, the president and CEO of the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce, said he reached out to businesses in Eau Claire for their support of the project. 

Minor said the project is a good deal and affordable, as it will not come from general tax dollars, but from the tourism industry. 

Along with tourism, Minor said the center will entice families of the community and gain a higher population, which will increase the economy.

“Without the expansion, we could not hold larger events and bring in more people,” Minor said. 

Scott Rogers, the governmental affairs & workforce director of the Eau Claire Chamber, believes the event center will be a huge benefit for the community. 

“It is a valuable asset to our community,” Rogers said. “It will generate more economy and increase the quality of life.” 

Armagost can be reached at [email protected].