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Delays in Center project may temporarily hurt convention business

Brad Williams

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The La Crosse Center is under economic pressure not to delay its expansion plans for too long.

La Crosse Center director Art Fahey told the Center Board on Tuesday that convention planners are hesitant to book future meetings in the building until the $42-million project is done.

That could mean a shortage of large meetings coming to the Center in 2019. Fahey, however, said other events can keep bringing in money during construction time.

“The entertainment side, actually, with the arena, is actually perking up a little bit,” Fahey said. “That doesn’t mean concerts, necessarily, but everything from WWE wrestling and Harlem Globetrotters — those kind of events that that come back to us, not every year, but frequently.”

The Center is expected to host at least 20 conventions next year — a total down from usual numbers, because of expansion plans.

After the renovations are completed, probably in 2020, Fahey expects a surge of convention business.

“People want to come to the shiny new place,” Fahey said. “Once we’re there, I think we’ll see that activity again, I think it’ll perk right back up.”

Fahey added that the center became a more popular convention destination after its most recent expansion, nearly 20 years ago.

“That happened back in 2000 when we really perked back up,” Fahey said. “We were over 40 (conventions) back then. Our success was doing multiple small conventions and we really saw a spike in that.”

Board president Brent Smith said City Hall wants an ‘aggressive timetable’ for building plans to be completed, so renovations can start on the 38-year-old civic center.

Board member Doug Farmer said the conventions have the greatest economic impact on other downtown businesses.

 

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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