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Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune  

Matt Springer and Mary Cate Cichock play the lead roles in the La Crosse Community Theatre production of “Miss Electricity.” The show for young audiences opens with performances at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, continuing with shows at the same times on the following two Saturdays.


Local
Former La Crosse County building moves into construction phase; project to include condos, retail

The asbestos is gone, along with about 80 tons of walls and a jail’s worth of steel. Now the former La Crosse County Administration Center is poised to become the downtown’s newest housing addition.

Stizo Development, a partnership of Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions and Borton Construction, held a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday to celebrate completion of the demolition stage. Construction of the $15.5 million project is expected to take about 10 months.

Originally planned as student-oriented housing, the “Hub on Sixth” has morphed into a mixed-use development that will combine 113 housing units with ground-floor commercial space.

“It’s morphed into a much bigger project,” said Borton president Paul Borsheim.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune  

A construction worker cleans up on the second level of the former La Crosse County Administration Center. With the demolition nearly complete, crews are preparing to add two floors that will include luxury condos to go along with 95 apartments.

Workers are preparing to add two floors that Three Sixty CEO Marvin Wanders hopes will house 18 condominiums in addition to apartments being targeted at young professionals who want to live in a growing downtown.

The two-story lofts are expected to sell for $240,000 to $350,000 and will feature full glass walls. Buyers also can modify the base units.

Wanders said he avoided building condos after his 44-unit Three Rivers Plaza project hit the market in 2006, shortly before the housing market collapse. But since starting on the administrative center, he has heard from people who wanted to live downtown but didn’t want to rent.

The remaining apartments are expected to rent for $700 to $1,200 a month and will feature patios. The building design also includes a fitness center and a rooftop basketball court as well as 26 underground parking stalls. (Additional above-ground and off-site parking will also be provided.)

The developers also amended the plans to include space for a restaurant or retail store on the first floor.

Borsheim said sustainability is a key component of the project.

Rubble from the walls was crushed for aggregate. The steel from the former jail, which took three workers a month to dismantle, has been recycled. The building will use a central hot water system and high-efficiency lighting and will include a 148-kilowatt solar system on the roof.

Stizo began removing asbestos in March. Demolition started in September and finished about two months ahead of schedule thanks to a pair of remote-controlled robots from Interstate Sawing.

“We planned five months for demo,” Wanders said. “It did it in five weeks.”

Wanders said the robots saved on labor costs and were safer than manual demolition.

“If a wall falls on a robot that’s not good,” he said. “If a wall falls on a person that’s really really bad.”

Constructed in 1965 as a courthouse and jail, the building housed county administrative offices since 1997.

In a move that stirred some controversy, the county board voted to sell the building for $250,000 rather than spend an estimated $18 million to remove asbestos and renovate it, and then purchased and remodeled the former Associated Bank building as part of a $23 million campus reorganization that was connected to the sale of a parking for the $68 million Belle Square development.

Andrea Schnick, economic development director for the city of La Crosse, said the Hub on Sixth, which will add at least $10.5 million to the city’s tax base, is the “last piece in the quadfecta of change” for the area and will bring additional residents and consumers into the downtown.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune  

Louise Olson of Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions and Va You Yang of Verve check out the view from what will be the loft apartments.

The addition of condos will require permission from the city, which has pledged to contribute $1.3 million in tax increment financing — essentially a credit against the additional $290,000 per year in property taxes the development is expected to generate.

Wanders expects city leaders will approve the change, which he expects will generate even more in tax revenue.

“This only adds value to our urban core,” he said.

Photos: Former La Crosse County building moves into construction phase

House tax bill would cap mortgage interest deduction, leave 401(k)s unchanged

WASHINGTON — The House GOP tax plan would dramatically lower the cap on widely used mortgage interest deductions to newly issued loans totaling no more than $500,000, down from the current $1 million, according to an outline of the much-anticipated measure released Thursday.

It also would immediately slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent, eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes, cap property tax deductions at $10,000 and leave unchanged the popular 401(k) retirement savings plans used by many Americans.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the plan — the most ambitious attempt to overhaul the U.S. tax code in generations — would save the average American family $1,182 a year. But critics say it’s still skewed heavily toward businesses and the wealthy.

The plan is expected to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, though Republicans insist the economic growth it stimulates will offset the costs.

The change in mortgage interest deductions, which would only apply to home purchases and mortgages going forward, is likely to deliver a significant blow to homeowners.

The housing industry strongly opposes efforts to place new restrictions on the deduction, arguing that it would lead to lower housing prices because there would be less of a financial incentive to buy instead of rent.

“Eliminating or nullifying the tax incentives for homeownership puts home values and middle-class homeowners at risk, and from a cursory examination, this legislation appears to do just that,” said William E. Brown, president of the National Association of Realtors.

Some liberals have long complained the mortgage interest deduction largely benefits wealthier homeowners and wanted to see it limited. But they had hoped to use the savings to pay for more affordable housing, not tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy.

Democrats immediately panned the GOP plan.

“What we are seeing today is a plan that exacerbates the unfairness and inequality in our tax code,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. “The Republican tax plan would put two thumbs down on a scale already tipped towards the wealthy and powerful. … Surely we can do better.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, defended the new mortgage interest deduction limits.

“All mortgages today remain as they are going forward,” he said. “In the future, you can deduct interest on newly purchased homes up to $500,000.”

Brady said Republican bill drafters were sensitive to the concerns of lawmakers from California and high-tax states on the East Coast, but he insisted that the effect of other parts of the bill, including the doubling of the standard deduction for couples to $24,000 and the revised individual income brackets, means “there is tax relief for Americans regardless of where they live.”

The GOP plan also dramatically scales back the deduction for state and local taxes, limiting it in the future only to property taxes and capping the deduction at $10,000. Americans no longer would be able to deduct state and local income or sales taxes, which currently make up about two-thirds of the deduction.

The plan also would repeal the estate tax, which affects only the richest Americans, in six years. The estate tax has long been a target of conservatives.

The bill would create a new child care tax credit, backed by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, starting at $1,000 per child and growing over time to $1,600.

The plan reduces the current seven personal tax brackets to four. Households with up to $24,000 in annual income will not be taxed because of a new expanded standard deduction. Income from $24,000 to $90,000 will be taxed at 12 percent, income from $90,000 to $260,000 will be taxed at 25 percent, income from $260,000 to $1 million will be taxed at 35 percent, and income above that is taxed at the current top rate of 39.6 percent.

Republicans on Thursday praised the plan.

“We just finished the World Series of tax reform, and the American people won,” Brady told lawmakers Thursday during a private meeting, according to a person at the meeting.

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said he was heartened that the 20 percent corporate rate cut would be immediate and permanent. There had been talk of phasing in the reduction, or having it expire after 10 years.

“I’m much more optimistic than I was going in,” he said.

Business groups welcomed the plan, but suggested tweaks were needed.

“This bold tax reform bill is exactly what our nation needs to get our economy growing faster,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But he added, “A lot of work remains to be done to get the exact policy mix right and move from a legislative draft to an enacted law.”

House Republicans plan to begin debating the bill in the Ways and Means Committee next week, with more amendments and changes expected before it is sent to the House floor.

Trump wants House passage by Thanksgiving, with Senate passage by the end of the year. Republicans are struggling to achieve a major legislative accomplishment before campaigns gear up ahead of next year’s midterm election.


Rory O’Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune  

UW-La Crosse’s Maddie Granos cuts the ball against the defense of UW-Stout’s Jessica Ingle (13) during the first half of Thursday’s WIAC Tournament semifinal at UW-La Crosse. Granos, however, suffered an injury in the second half and had to leave the game.


Local
La Crosse capital improvements include pool, marina, park improvements

A city of La Crosse committee Thursday approved $7.58 million in new borrowing for capital improvement projects such as the Veterans Memorial Pool, streets and park projects, as well as a $30,000 private audit of the parks department.

The Finance and Personnel Committee voted in favor of a 2018 capital improvement budget that allocates $825,000 for Veterans Memorial Pool, $350,000 for Isle la Plume improvements and $100,000 to Riverside Park improvements. The vote came after a tie vote of 3-3 to reallocate the $100,000 for Riverside Park’s fountain to the pool project.

Janssen

Council member Barb Janssen, who sits on the committee, suggested moving the money from the fountain to the pool, pointing out that the council approved more than $1 million for Riverside Park improvements last month.

“This is a very important project and the more money we can allocate to this project today or this coming week gives the committee that is working on fundraising an opportunity to actually save us money in the future,” Janssen said.

Support from the city, she argued, would encourage people to donate to the project.

“A lot of the legwork is coming to an end, so we can actually start building next year and get rid of that eyesore,” Janssen said, referring to the pool location on Campbell Road which was dug up as the infrastructure was studied.

Marshall

Council member David Marshall agreed, saying a strong commitment would be a clear statement to potential donors.

However, other council members argued that while the council as a whole is strongly in favor of the project, it was a matter of time and splitting priorities.

“We definitely want it to happen. It’s just not going to happen as soon as everybody likes, just like most of our projects, our roads and everything else,” said council member Scott Neumeister.

Medinger

While council member Paul Medinger was happy to see additional funding for the pool throughout the capital improvement budgeting process last month, he said, he also wants to ensure Riverside Park’s fountain remains operational.

“If we want to talk about eyesores, that fountain in the park that is the gem of our city shut down last summer with a sign on it — I go on my runs through there — that was an eyesore right in the middle of Riverside Park,” Medinger said.

According to parks and forestry superintendent Jay Odegaard, without additional work in 2018, it isn’t certain that the fountain would remain running for the entire season.

“That fountain is showing its age. One of the issues that we deal with is the hard winters here. They never really show us what we’re going to find until we find it in the early spring,” Odegaard said. “It’s possible we could limp through another year just doing some preventative maintenance and patch repairs. It’s also something that we may end up having to shut it down altogether.”

Kabat

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat urged the committee to approve the budget as-is, calling it a good balance of various priorities that falls within the city’s self-imposed borrowing cap of $7.5 million.

“It’s a fine balance. Yes, we could allocate $5 million to one project and tell all the other projects to just get in line and wait your turn, and that would delay action on those projects for even longer than what they experience now,” Kabat said.

The committee did approve an amendment to the budget, clarifying that $75,000 of the $125,000 allocated for trail restoration will be used to move Willow Trail, which runs from the La Crosse River Marsh to Riverside Park.

Parks audit

The committee voted 4-2 to approve paying WIPFLI $30,000 to audit the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, with Medinger and Phillip Ostrem speaking in favor of allowing the city’s new finance director to perform the audit, rather than paying for an outside firm.

Proponents of the audit said the outside audit will put to rest any questions about the funding process for parks project and bring the city more credibility.


Janssen