UW-Eau Claire gets largest-ever donation to help build long-desired events center

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The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been trying for over 40 years to build a new events center to replace its undersized Zorn Arena. Now, thanks to the largest-ever outright donation to the university, the project may finally become a reality.

Alumni and Wisconsin natives John and Carolyn Sonnentag, who now live in Mount Dora, Florida, have announced a plan to donate $10 million of cash and land, including 21 acres along Menomonie Street in Eau Claire, to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation to help fund a new multipurpose events center to replace Zorn Arena, the university says.

"Carolyn and I feel that the UW-Eau Claire and the Eau Claire communities have made such a great contribution to our lives that we want to give back in whatever capacity we can," John Sonnentag said in a news release. "We are very pleased to help make this project happen."

More private funding will be needed to complete construction of the project, school officials say.

The proposed project, which would be named the County Materials Event and Recreation Complex, would accommodate at least 7,500 people and would include recreation and athletic facilities for the university.

The Sonnentags’ donation is a dream-come-true for the new center’s longtime proponents, whose struggle to build a larger venue dates back to the early 1980s, the Leader-Telegram says.

The small Zorn Arena was even the subject of a 1971 Sports Illustrated story mentioning the school's hopes to build a new arena to replace the "tiny 3,500-seat fieldhouse" in the near future.

The struggle to build a new center is what inspired the Sonnentags, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in the late 1960s, to donate land and money to the university.

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