City of Eau Claire, UWEC look at potential Sonnentag partnership

Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 7:00 PM CST
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The Sonnentag Event Complex is now proposing an expansion which will add another one thousand seats to the facility.

The complex is planned to be a multi-purpose event center, recreation and fitness facility.

In October 2019 plans were announced for the nearly $100-million community complex.

After a study done to explore the expansion of the event center by the city of Eau Claire and Visit Eau Claire, they decided to join the project.

The new expansion proposed by the city of Eau Claire, Visit Eau Claire and the Eau Claire community would bring the complex capacity to a total of 5,100 people, a number that would allow bigger events to come to the city.

"Zorn arena was built in 1951 and opened in 1952. We have a Sports Illustrated article from 1971 saying the Blugolds sometime in the near future, hope to be playing in a new 10,000 seat arena.

Almost seventy years later and the Blugolds are playing in the same place, but there are plans for that to change in the near future.

"John and Carolyn Sonnentag made a gift of land and cash to the university foundation in the summer of 2014," UW-Eau Claire’s Assistant Chancellor Mike Rindo said.

This land would be used to replace the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire's Zorn Arena and create the Sonnentag Event Complex.

"The university since the announcement of the Sonnentag project has indicated that it is open to a partnership in order to expand beyond what the university needs," Rindo said.

Originally deciding on a 4,100 arena, the university decided on a new partnership that would include the city of Eau Claire and Visit Eau Claire.

"After careful consideration and study it was determined that a facility that could hold 5,100 with a cost of between 5 and 6 million dollars was a project to pursue," Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters said.

The facility would have five basketball courts. It would also potentially hold ten concerts and fifteen tournaments bringing in about 50,000 more people to Eau Claire each year.

Eau Claire Chamber President and CEO Dave Minor says the expansion is necessary to hold more events.

"The magic number for groups, events, those kinds of things is 5,000 kind of threshold,” Minor said.

And the development will have a larger economic impact on the community.

"Hotels are going to come because the teams coming to the tournaments want to stay as close to the hotels as they can, you know, people attending the concerts or events are going to want to stay that close, that then spurs more restaurants,” Minor said.

The letter of intent with the new changes will be proposed at Tuesday’s Eau Claire City Council meeting.

If approved, the partners will work to enter into a development agreement. UW-Eau Claire hopes to break ground on the new facility in July.