Just before Thanksgiving of 1977, Mayor Pat Zielke was celebrating the passage of a nearly $10 million referendum to let the city of La Crosse build a civic center and a parking ramp. It was part of the Harborview development project, which had been stalled for years near the riverfront. The referendum was needed to get the Radisson chain to build a hotel next to what would become the La Crosse Center. Project backer D.B. Reinhart said Radisson normally would not build a hotel in a city with a population under 100,000.
The La Crosse Center would be built to replace the Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium, where folks in La Crosse would see big-name performers. That November of ’77, 3000 people went to the Sawyer to see one of the hottest comedians around. Steve Martin was hosting “Saturday Night Live” two or three times a year, appeared as a judge on “The Gong Show,” and he had a hit record album. The “wild and crazy guy” was described as a lunatic and weirdo in a Tribune review of his La Crosse show. Martin joked that it was great to be “in the capital of Wisconsin.”