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Yesterday in La Crosse

La Crosse voters said yes to a convention center, 42 years ago

Brad Williams



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.”

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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