Posted: July 19, 2013
Proponents of the Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire are in sales mode as they attempt to lure city officials to lead the way towards providing financing for the $75 million public/private partnership. The city, which is being asked to commit $10 million, plus $200,000 annually in room tax revenue, would be the first governing body to sign on to support the complex project.
Although the state has given verbal commitments, the $25 million request for half of the cost of the performing arts center was not included in the 2013-15 state budget. Eau Claire County will be asked to provide $5 million to the project. The remainder of the funds will come from private investors ($23 million) and the rest will be derived from donations and philanthropic efforts ($12 million).
Since the developers of the Confluence Project elected to take on more of the financial burden themselves and not rely soley on the University of Wisconsin System for student housing, the proposal has become more attractive to many at the state level, including Governor Walker. In fact, one of the key selling points in the plan is that more of the project will be on the local property tax roll.
When the developers of the Confluence Project made their presentations this week to the Eau Claire City Council, two things struck me: One was that the new chancellor at UW-Eau Claire is a heck of a salesman; and two, there are still questions how the room tax revenues will be allocated to the Confluence Project.
Dr. James Schmitt, the new UWEC Chancellor, has been involved in similar arts center projects in other communities, and is very much in favor of the Confluence Project. He said it is imperative that the City of Eau Claire send a clear signal that it supports the project.
Since the City of Eau Claire only allocates a portion of the total room tax collections annually to Visit Eau Claire, I would be interested to know if the city wil take its cut before providing the $200,000 to the new performing arts center. Even though it appears the city will continue to receive an increased revenue stream from the room tax for the foreseeable future, other organizations that rely on those same funds are probably wondering the same thing.
If the Confluence Project is to gain any traction, then the city needs to fund its portion of the project. Then I would recommend that the Confluence developers invite Chancellor Schmitt to make a presentation to the Eau Claire County Board since that public body will need to be sold on the concept.