Central States Warehouse owner loves making business deals
Cliff LeCleir owns Central States Warehouse on La Crosse’s north side.PETER THOMSON photo PETER THOMSON

Four years after he began switching from owning apartments to owning warehouse and office space, Cliff LeCleir still enjoys making business deals.

LeCleir, 66, is CEO of Central States Warehouse at 1629 Caledonia St.

The late David Nudd started Central States Warehouse in 1973 in the former Electric Auto-Lite Co. factory complex at Rose and Gillette streets. LeCleir bought the property from the Nudd family in May 2005 and has constructed an additional building there.

The complex has about 520,000 square feet of warehouse, manufacturing, record storage, office and retail space and is used by more than 100 organizations.

“Some are small companies, contractors or start-ups, and others are nationally recognized entities,” LeCleir said of his tenants.

“Many are manufacturers from Minneapolis, Rochester, Milwaukee and even Canada that find it cost-effective to store at Central States Warehouse and let Central States distribute their products.”

Right now, LeCleir’s main focus is finding new tenants for the 250,000 square feet of space that LaCrosse Footwear Inc. will vacate at the end of April.

LaCrosse Footwear announced last May it will close its two distribution centers in La Crosse and replace them with a new center in the Indianapolis area. Its other local distribution center is in the former Trane Plant 6 building at Lang Drive and St. Andrew Street.

LeCleir said he hopes to lease the space LaCrosse Footwear is vacating to several tenants, so the impact won’t be as great if one of them left.

LeCleir also has acquired other properties in the area in the past few years, such as the Sprint call center and the River Funding office building, both in West Salem; a FedEx building in Holmen; the former Western Distributing Co. building in La Crosse and the Sara Lee warehouse on Second Street in downtown La Crosse. He also owns undeveloped land next to some of his buildings.

LeCleir has talked to City of La Crosse officials about his willingness to make the Sara Lee warehouse location available for redevelopment, but that would require finding a new home for the Sara Lee’s local warehouse operation. The City Vision 2020 master plan lists the current site as a priority for future redevelopment.

Since 2004, LeCleir has sold almost all of the 1,500 apartments he owned in eight cities in three states. He still has 37 apartments in Richland Center and wants to sell them as well.

He said he decided to switch from the apartment business to ware-housing and offices “mainly because I was spread out. I didn’t want to retire, but wanted something to be active in. I love putting deals together and engaging in commerce.

“I basically called it my 15-year plan,” LeCleir said of going into the warehousing and office business. “I tell people, just a bit facetiously, that from 65 until 80, I’m going to engage in my 15-year plan. And after that I’m going to slow down, I don’t care what you say,” he added, laughing.

LeCleir was raised on a farm near Chippewa Falls, the oldest of three children. “The main thing I learned growing up on the farm was a work ethic,” he said.

After graduating from high school in Cornell, Wis., LeCleir hitchhiked to St. Paul and got his first job, unloading trucks at a Montgomery Ward distribution center there.

He worked at factories in Eau Claire and Chicago before moving to La Crosse and working at a downtown Henry’s drive-in restaurant. He worked at the Allis-Chalmers factory in La Crosse from 1963 to 1964 before serving in the Army from 1964 to 1967.

He returned to work at Allis-Chalmers, then attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, graduating in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and geography. He bought his first rental housing while he was at UW-L.

In the mid-1970s, LeCleir and a partner opened two Gringo’s Mexican restaurants in La Crosse. After about three years, LeCleir sold his interest in the restaurants to his partner.

Buying and constructing apartment buildings soon became his career.

THE LECLEIR FILE

WHO: Cliff LeCleir

TITLE: CEO of Central States Warehouse, which owns warehouse and office space that it rents to a variety of businesses and other organizations.

FAMILY: LeCleir and his wife, Sandy, have three grown children, Amanda, Andrew and Daniel. Sandy was involved in the couple’s apartment business, but has retired.

MORE INFO: For more information about Central States, call (608) 781-2818 or visit www.csw-warehouse.com.

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