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La Crosse Center renovation entering new phase

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Discussion about a La Crosse Center expansion has been going on for five years.

According to planners, however, they’re just finishing phase one of five on the project.

At an informational meeting about the Center on Monday — where about 30 total attended — architects explained that the next phase is working out a concept for the building, followed by a detailed design and then bidding and construction.

All this comes after a $49-million renovation plan for the building fell through after a veto by Mayor Tim Kabat, who wasn’t keen to the idea of the building taking over part of Riverside Park.

As planners briefed citizens and local business people on the status, Kabat said the remodeling should highlight what other mayors in the region admire about La Crosse.

“They’re frankly jealous of the setup that we have and the fact that we have this most beautiful park adjacent to this unbelievable facility next to one of the greatest rivers in the entire world,” Kabat said.

Planners say the opening ‘discovery’ phase of the now $42-million project is ending, and now the serious designing phase begins. The public will be able to follow the progress of the building plans through a website and social media, which will soon be coming.

La Crosse Chamber of Commerce director Vicki Markussen said at the meeting there are misconceptions that the city is trying to prop up a private business.

“The feedback that we heard at the chamber was, ‘This is corporate welfare,'” she said. “And it’s like, ‘This is a public building owned by the taxpayer.’
“So, there’s a lack of understanding over who owns the La Crosse Center, even.”

Markussen wants businesses outside of downtown La Crosse to realize that they can also benefit from people attending events at the Center.

At the meeting was someone who went through this same process 20 years ago — former La Crosse Center manager Glenn Walinski.

“We at the Center knew that we needed to upgrade the Center in order to compete, in order to bring some of that business to the west side of Wisconsin,” Walinski said. “And right now, you’re facing that exact same process where the business has changed.”

Walinski led the original Center expansion, which added a ballroom and the South Hall to the building in 2000.

Center leaders still hope to have the building remodeled by 2020.

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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