The La Crosse Center Board Wednesday recommended the city move forward with a $49 million, 98,866-square-foot design for the center’s renovation and expansion project.
Council member Jessica Olson, who joined the board in April, made the motion in favor of the mid-level design, which came in between the $55 million, 127,840 square-foot and $45 million, 75,200 square-foot designs provided by architecture firms Gensler and ISG, working with Kraus-Anderson Construction.
“First of all, I believe it gets us in the sweet spot as far as cost per square foot,” she said.
In her experience, Olson said, that number, which comes out to about $416 per square foot, is a good indicator of how much money they will be able to make off of a project.
Board president Brent Smith said the design combines all of the priorities the board had coming into the renovation project, including a new entrance to better welcome visitors, a larger ballroom and other features to take advantage of the view of the Mississippi River.
The design includes a 17,669-square-foot ballroom which will be suspended over Front Street and include an entrance from Riverside Park, as well as 12,000 square feet of additional meeting rooms. It also calls for a redesign of the main entrance off of Second Street and a wrap-around hallway to connect the front- and back-ends of the building.
“As far as the overall look and impact to the city, I believe a well-designed expansion toward the west, toward our park, is the best way forward in terms of the aesthetic impact to the downtown and to our community,” Olson said.
She also acknowledged that the Center’s downtown neighbors strongly preferred leaving the corridor down to Riverside Park off of Pearl Street clear for pedestrians.
“As far as the capacity to earn money and expand markets, the ballroom space and meeting space is balanced,” Olson said. “We don’t want to end up with a ballroom that does not have adequate meeting room space for conventions, trade shows and that to be able to have breakout sessions.”
The price tag comes in at $7.2 million more than the $42 million currently budgeted for the city-owned convention center.
The recommendation will go to the La Crosse Common Council; however, the board will wait until the economic impact study is finalized before asking the council to approve spending more money.
Preliminary numbers suggest the chosen design will add about 18,000 to 22,000 new annual visitors and have a $12.1 million annual impact, potentially leading to more than 150 new jobs in the La Crosse area.
“We think there are probably some things we’d like to talk further with Gensler about,” Smith said, particularly when it comes to projected La Crosse Center operational costs.
“The economic impact statement is very important, not only as to the larger effect on the community, but the effect on this building and how it’s going to operate,” he said.
The board stressed how important it was to have the best, most-informed estimates available when they ask the council to weigh in.
“We owe it to them to be as accurate as possible in combing both industry norms with their computer modeling and marrying that with what information is available from books here in house,” Olson said.