$45M Eau Claire Arts Center Opens Saturday

Pablo Center At The Confluence More Than 6 Years In The Making

The Pablo Center at the Confluence (right) opens its doors to the public Saturday. The $45 million performing arts center is part of a larger downtown Eau Claire redevelopment that has been more than six years in the making. 

After six years, two referendums and $45 million in fundraising, a new performing arts center is set to open in Eau Claire on Saturday.

There are three theaters, recital studios, an art gallery and classroom space for music and theater students attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire at the new center.

The Pablo Center at the Confluence is a public-private partnership that began in 2012 with a series of community meetings in Eau Claire County on the need for a new performing arts center and major event venue.

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Fundraising for the project began immediately after the project was announced by stakeholders in 2012. Fundraising included securing $15 million in funding through the state building commission, $3.5 million from Eau Claire County and a $5 million contribution from the city of Eau Claire.

The use of city and county funds drew opposition early on from a group of residents calling themselves Voters With Facts. Members collected signatures and forced two referendum questions asking voters whether they supported spending tax dollars on the arts center.

The referendums were held in April 2013 and threatened to set what was then called the Confluence Project back, but voters approved the use of public funds.

The contribution from state coffers offered another roller coaster of emotions for project supporters.

Supporters originally sought $25 million in state funding through the UW System. In 2014, Gov. Scott Walker pledged that he would include $15 million for the project in his 2015-17 state budget. But that funding was pulled from the budget by the state’s Joint Committee on Finance in May 2015 only to be restored that same month. Private donations for the Pablo Center at the Confluence has exceeded $24 million.

Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters said the collaboration between private developers, the city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, the state and UW-Eau Claire will bring the arts to the forefront of the downtown.

“Not everybody got what they wanted but they got what they needed to make it happen,” Peters said. “The ability to integrate the university into the downtown and to have that collaboration between the university and the music and the theater functions with the community is just tremendous and it’s something we should be incredibly proud of.”

Pablo Center at the Confluence Executive Director Jason Anderson said the center has already spurred millions of dollars of investment into properties nearby. Most notably was the renovation of a long shuttered seven-story hotel.

Eau Claire resident and founder of JAMF Software Zach Halmstad invested more than $20 million into renovating the foreclosed property into a modern hotel, restaurant and coffee shop. Anderson said he expects more downtown development to follow, saying this is just the beginning.

“A lot of the development we’ve seen economically downtown has been in preparation of this building and facility coming online,” Anderson said.

Doors to the Pablo Center at the Confluence will open to the public Saturday.