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Business questions reasoning behind renovation plans for La Crosse Center

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The proposed west addition to the La Crosse Center is a hit with a city council committee but it’s drawing criticism from one company that puts on events there.  

The finance and personnel committee has approved the plan to remodel the side of the civic center that faces the Mississippi River, which could cost up to $42 million.

That, however, isn’t such a good idea according to Chris Navratil, the vice president of Shamrock Productions, which brings a sport and travel show to the center every year.  

Navratil told the finance committee Thursday night that a west-side addition might actually reduce existing exhibition space, like North Hall.

“Why has the entire addition been focused on a river view?” she asked. “Is this a convention center or are you designing it based on how a hotel or restaurant would remodel with an outdoor plaza that can only be used a few months out of the year?”

Her reasoning behind objecting to remove and rebuild the North Hall was simple.

“How is taking out a 15,000 square foot north hall that can be rented for multiple uses, and turning it into a less rental space better?” she asked. “Ground level rentable space is the most valuable space in any convention center.”

Architects for the project say no decisions have been made about North Hall yet.  The west option goes to the full city council next week.

Council member Doug Happel likes the west option but wants to be sure the project doesn’t go beyond the $42 million budget limit approved by the council last July.

“I don’t know what the mayor would do,” Happel said. “I don’t know what the rest of the council would do. But there was a very clear message a few months ago — it’s $42 million, not $42,000,001.”

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat vetoed a previous plan that was going to cost around $49 million. The main objection to that plan, however, was that it was going to cover a large portion of Riverside Park.

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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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dawn Kinard

    January 4, 2019 at 8:35 am

    LEAVE OUR PARK ALONE!!!!!! Belongs to the people that pay for it, not the city’s right to steal!!! Ms. Navratil is correct in “her” thinking thank you.

    • chris navratil

      January 4, 2019 at 10:28 pm

      It is disappointing that the budget was passed for the West Concept. This honestly doesn’t make sense.

      There are ways to refurbish the La Crosse Center that would be more cost effective and it is sad that the community was never presented a refurbishing-vs- a tear down cost comparison. North hall should not be torn down at all. If it should then ask yourself why isn’t the arena being torn down and rebuilt? Why is the arena being refurbished yet North Hall is being torn down? Tearing down North Hall and not refurbishing it will effect multiple events coming to the center which will have a negative impact financially on the center not just during the construction phase and will impact the events forever! Ground level space is always more useable to a larger customer base that comes into any convention center than building a ballroom which will be used by a smaller niche of customers.

      The river view should have never been the primary focus of any renovation or addition. This is a convention center and a outdoor plaza, huge atrium and future balcony etc, will not generate any revenue for the Center. The Grand Ballroom addition will not generate the economic impact that the Architects predict because it is less useable functional space than the current ground level North Hall Space and the new ballroom can’t be used by everyone just a few events. How are they arriving at their figures? The are taking the Ballroom sq. footage and comparing it to North hall sq. footage. However it is not the same space, one is usable for any event coming to the center and the other is not! The current plaza in front and on the North side of the center has never generated a dime but they are proposing to make a bigger Plaza? We don’t live in California! There is a park that has a beautiful view. Let the park be a park and the convention center function as a convention center.

      It is sad that the current events /users of the building were never asked their opinion in the early stages of the concepts. It makes me question if the people who have control of the 42 million really understand how a convention center functions. There are many, many ways to make this building flow smoother and cost less money than what is currently being proposed. A tear down of any part of the current building is not being fiscally responsible. 42 million will never in the end be enough to rebuild and give the center the facelift it is asking for. Then shortcuts will be made like what was done on the last renovation in 2000 when a one way escalator was installed going to ballroom and the current ballroom wasn’t supplied with adequate power. Refurbish North Hall don’t destroy it. Use the millions that will not be spent to rebuild half or all of North Hall and put it towards upgrading the current space in the entire building.

      There are ways to make this building the biggest and best in the State but they are not being heard!

    • Jolene Lien

      January 6, 2019 at 1:26 pm

      They are no longer encroaching into the park.

  2. Beverly Weber

    January 4, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Someone wants to make money on a renovation project, regardless of the impact on income to the center. Also, the park land was donated for the benefit of the public to enjoy outdoors–not covered by buildings.

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