City of Eau Claire agrees to join Sonnentag project

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- After years of searching, the city of Eau Claire appears to be set to have its own events center.

"The community has discussed the possibility of a larger events center for decades and it was certainly identified as part of the Clear Vision project in 2007," explains Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters. "So it's exciting to be able to see partners come together and work together to be able to provide an expanded event center for the benefit of not only the university, but the entire community."

Tuesday, the Eau Claire City Council unanimously approved a letter of intent to partner in the Sonnentag project, with Visit Eau Claire, Eau Claire Community Complex Inc., and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The university's planned Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex was meant to serve as a replacement for the 2,500 seat Zorn Arena.

Now with the city on board, that project will grow even larger.

An event center holding 5,100 people, and five basketball courts to host tournaments.

"Campus does not need an event center of that size, nor does it need necessarily all of those basketball courts, but by working together we're able to have something that meets both the campus and community desires and so that's very exciting," said UWEC Assistant Chancellor Mike Rindo.

The idea of a partnership between the city and university began years ago, but gained more steam just in the last few months.

Now with the letter of intent signed, Peters says the next step is to finalize the agreement.

"The partners are meeting every week to address the details to move from a letter of intent to a memorandum of understanding or a development agreement, which would allow for the breaking ground of the project this summer," he said.

The beginning design plans for the Sonnentag complex are already drawn up.

Now the finishing touches need to be applied before construction starts.

"Those preliminary designs have already been done and the next step now is to start working on a more detailed design and to look at making sure that we're accommodating all of the needs for the city and Visit Eau Claire," said Rindo.

The city says they hope to have a finalized agreement sometime this spring, and the hope for the university is to break ground in July.

The city would pay between $6-7 million for the expansion, and up to $1.5 million to make the facility energy independent.

The funds would be paid for by room tax and Tax Incremental Financing (TIF).