UW Regents approve Eau Claire Confluence request - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UW Regents approve Eau Claire Confluence request

Oshkosh (WQOW) The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents has approved a resolution urging state lawmakers to approve funding for one part of Eau Claire's downtown Confluence project.  The vote came at the regents meeting Thursday afternoon in Oshkosh.

The project- which is a major part of the plan to build up downtown Eau Claire- is not in the UW system's capital budget, however.  Instead, regents passed a resolution urging the state to fund it outside the UW budget.  The part of the Eau Claire project approved today is a performing arts center that would be used by UW-Eau Claire and others.  Project developers now have until the middle of next month to apply for the grant.  After the vote, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt seemed pleased:  "I think, for locally, it's important that this is cleared up exactly what the next steps are. It's more than hope, it's an actual vote of support and we'll be working with the local philanthropic community and our other supporters to make the Confluence a reality. With any luck, we'll have a shovel in the ground in less than two years."   The University of Wisconsin System issued the following statement after the Regents' vote:

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents today reaffirmed support for the UW-Eau Claire Confluence Project as part of the resolution recommending UW System 2015-17 capital budget projects. 

The resolution directed UW System President Ray Cross or his designees to work with the State of Wisconsin's Department of Administration to implement the project.

Gov. Scott Walker announced his support for the Eau Claire Confluence Project on June 23 and reaffirmed that support Tuesday, Aug. 19.

“Based on my decades of experience in business, real estate and community leadership, I understand the power of the public-private partnerships,” explained Regina Millner, vice president of the Board of Regents.  “They create jobs and stimulate the creation and expansion of other businesses. They directly and indirectly improve a region's quality of life.

“The Confluence Project will turn a blighted industrial parcel into a vibrant, job-creating center of activity,” she continued. “It will provide multiple benefits to the community and provide immediate and long-term benefits to the region's economy. It will also leverage private-sector and philanthropic investments.  

“We are both competitors and neighbors with our friends across the Mississippi in Minnesota,” Millner said. “The Confluence Project will provide educational, social and cultural benefits for both states, though its economic benefits will be most realized here in Wisconsin. This project is consistent with the UW universities' historic role and the economic influence they provide in their communities and across Wisconsin. I believe its many benefits justify moving forward.”

The Confluence Project leverages local government, philanthropic, private and state dollars to create a project that no one of these partners could do alone. The project more closely connects the UW-Eau Claire campus with the community and region its serves and has the potential to have significant economic development impact now and in the future.

The regents also voted unanimously to seek an extra $95 million in funding for the state's universities.

System President Ray Cross wants the money to cover a new multi-pronged plan to create jobs, boost graduation rates and offset the effects of a tuition freeze Republican lawmakers imposed after learning schools were accumulating massive surpluses while raising tuition annually. Walker wants to extend the freeze in the upcoming state budget.

The governor has warned state agencies not to expect any new tax dollars in the spending plan but Cross believes he can convince the governor and legislators the new money will boost the economy.

Also at Thursday's meeting, the Regents approved a request for $33 million for several projects at UW-Stout in Menomonie.  Among those projects: $8.9 million for exterior maintenance and repair of Bowman Hall, $17.7 million for renovation and an addition to North residence hall, and $6.7 million for renovation of the first floor of the Merle M. Price Commons.

The Regents also approved $33 million for renovations to Towers Hall on the UW-Eau Claire Campus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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