Pablo Budget Has $8.9m Shortfall, but There’s a Plan to Get the Extra Funds

Tom Giffey, photos by Joel Pearish

PREPARING PABLO. Visitors stand on the stage in the RCU Theater inside the Pablo Center at the Confluence. The stage is three times larger than the stage at the State Theatre, which it will replace.
PREPARING PABLO. Visitors stand on the stage in the RCU Theater inside the Pablo Center at the Confluence. The stage is three times larger than the stage at the State Theatre, which it will replace.

Building, furnishing, and opening Eau Claire’s new downtown arts hub – the Pablo Center at the Confluence – will cost nearly $60 million, or about $8 million more than originally estimated, according to a budget update released earlier this month. The $59.89 million price tag includes $45 million in construction costs for the arts center, which is slated to open Sept. 22.

“Anyone who’s got the chance to come see the space, walks away like, ‘This is nothing like I ever imagined. I didn’t believe this could be here. This is where we want to be.’” – Jason Jon Anderson, executive director, Pablo Center at the Confluence

The budget for the shared university-community facility – which will contain two theaters, rehearsal spaces, art galleries, classrooms, a recording studio, and much more – includes a funding gap of $8.89 million. The Pablo Center hopes to fill the shortfall with an additional $4.7 million from donors and $4.2 million in grants. No new tax dollars will be sought.

Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson said he’s optimistic about receiving the needed funds via grants and donations. “We need to close the gap,” he said, “but if we don’t, we still have a building.”

Anderson realizes that some in the community may raise eyebrows at hearing of the shortfall. However, he said the additional funding is necessary to fully outfit the arts center with the necessary furniture, fixtures, and equipment. The original budget did not include funding for audio/visual technology in numerous parts of the building, including rehearsal rooms, classrooms, the recording studio, and lab spaces.

“The building is paid for. The design fees are paid for. We physically have the building, and we have a Jamf Theater and an RCU Theater that are paid for,” Anderson said. “It’s the remainder of that 155,000 square feet that we’re trying to ensure has the furnishings and equipment in it that it then functions the way the building was intended from a revenue-generating perspective, a creative economy-growing perspective, and (as) an educational center.”

Anderson is optimistic that the $8.89 million gap will be filled. The arts center has applied for $4.8 million in grants, and estimates that it will receive at least $4.1 million. The grants are primarily for the workforce development and innovation center portions of the building, which include a first-floor makerspace and a second-floor community classroom, Anderson said. “If those grants are not successful, then the equipment that goes into those spaces just won’t be done,” he said.

Anderson is also optimistic that the Pablo Center will receive the philanthropic dollars it is seeking. In particular, project backers are soliciting additional donations from members of the business community who already gave toward the project, as well as first-time donations from other businesses. Anderson said businesses are being invited to invest in the project as a way of boosting the region’s skilled workforce as well as its culture. Having the building well on its way toward completion helps with that pitch, he said.

“Anyone who’s got the chance to come see the space, walks away like, ‘This is nothing like I ever imagined. I didn’t believe this could be here. This is where we want to be,’ ” Anderson said.

The Pablo Center – the culmination of a six-year planning, fundraising, and construction process – is currently being built along Graham Avenue in downtown Eau Claire, overlooking the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. The facility’s budget already includes $51 million from the following sources: $24 million in local philanthropy, $15 million from the state, $5 million from the city, $3.5 million from the county, and $3.5 million in new market tax credits. No new tax dollars are being requested, the budget update says.

The $45 million construction figure was widely cited as the arts center’s cost in recent years. However, the new budget includes an additional $6.1 million for design and development, $926,000 for “pre-opening expenses” (such as software, IT systems, and staff costs), and $7.9 million for furnishings. The original budget including funding for furnishings and technology in the two theaters – the 1,229-seat RCU Theater and the 400-seat Jamf Theater – but not in other parts of the building.

“Budgeting has been a very fluid process, driven not just by the construction process for an arts center, but also responding to the unique and transformational opportunities associated with what a center of this magnitude can offer to the region in the form of community benefits, workforce development, and innovation,” said a statement released with the budget update.

To learn more about the Pablo Center at the Confluence and the continued fundraising effort, visit communityfortheconfluence.org or pablocenter.org.

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