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WIZM 2021 review: La Crosse Center and fish lab project make development news

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The past year has been busy for development projects in La Crosse, and many of those projects made headlines in 2021.

Some of them saw significant movement, after years of planning and discussion, such as the River Point development on the old Mobil Oil site.

During the year, dump trucks hauled thousands of cubic yards of dirt to the riverfront site just north of the Oktobefest grounds, so buildings will be above flood level.

A River Point groundbreaking was held in June. That same month saw the grand opening of the Trane All-Abilities Park and playground, on La Crosse’s south side.

Late in 2021, the end of another long-planned project was announced.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) said it would give up trying to build a north-south highway through the La Crosse River marsh — 23 years after voters passed a referendum opposing the road.

One of the largest building projects in years for downtown La Crosse officially wrapped up just before Christmas, as the La Crosse Center expansion was completed. Much of the civic center was closed down for almost two years, as exhibit areas were added or improved during the COVID-19 outbreak.

A new North Hall was dedicated in March, and the end of the $42-million project was celebrated with a party on Dec. 15, inside the addition built toward the riverfront.

During the project, the Center got to host some games of the WIAA high school basketball for both boys and girls.

Like the planning for the La Crosse Center, other projects during 2021 took months of public hearings and council meetings before getting approval.

One of those was the rezoning plan to allow for remodeling of the former fish hatchery in Riverside Park into an event center.

Some citizens claimed the city was trying to rush the project through without public input. There were predictions of heavy traffic, loud parties and drinking.

FILE – Rendering of the potential back exterior for the historic Fish Labs building on the north end of Riverside Park. (PHOTO: City of La Crosse)

Eventually, the city council and park board approved rezoning of the structure and a 20-year lease for developers.

Another project that took time was the expansion of a Bethany Lutheran nursing home near Gundersen Health System on the southside.

It brought criticism from neighbors, concerned about how many stories the new portion would be and would other developers follow, all but blocking the view of the Mississippi River.

That project moved ahead, with the city council revising zoning rules for how tall a building can be in certain residential areas.

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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