The Doerflinger Building in downtown La Crosse

La Crosse will invest nearly $200,000 into upgrades to the Doerflinger Building at the corner of Fourth and Main streets downtown.

La Crosse Common Council unanimously approved an agreement with Doerflinger’s Second Century, Inc., to provide a $98,810 grant and $94,000 loan of tax increment district (TID) six funds toward the $1.8 million project by Doerflingers owner Mike Keil and his new tenant Duluth Trading Co.

“Having Duluth Trading Co. moving into this historically underutilized, iconic cornerstone of our downtown will be a benefit to us,” said James Cherf, who represents downtown on the City Council.

“We need to step up and remove barriers to this happening,” he added.

The agreement guarantees that the project will have an assessed value of not less than $1.8 million through the life of TID 6, beginning in 2017. If it does not, the contract calls for a payment in lieu of taxes to make up the difference.

Keil also agrees to hire local subcontractors, workers and suppliers — within a 75-mile radius of the city — to provide work and construction materials, with at least 80 percent of the cost of the project going to pay La Crosse area businesses and residents.

“This involves significant city money, so domestic entities need to enjoy the benefits of that investment,” Cherf said. “This isn’t just city money. This is taxpayer’s money.”

For the city’s part, in addition to the grant and loan, it will provide assistance with any government-required permits or zoning changes.

Keil said the project would be good for the entire city, encouraging travelers — who typically don’t stray too far from Interstate 90 — to migrate downtown and partake in the area’s restaurants, coffee shops and stores.

“The exciting thing about Duluth Trading Co is that they will attract a lot of people to downtown who normally wouldn’t visit here,” Keil said.

Construction on the project has already begun.

“We’re just starting to frame up walls this week and the store is expected to be open early summer,” Keil said.

The biggest change to the outside of the building will be the restoration of transom glass, bringing the building back to its original design.

“It’s exciting for me personally. This is like the last area to be restored,” Keil said.

When he started restoring the building a decade ago, he focused on the stairway, upper floors and mechanical system.

“This gives us the opportunity to restore those lower floors as well,” Keil said.

Changes will also include a complete renovation of the first floor and much of the basement.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved the transfer of $243,000 to the 2015 Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department to offset a deficit after expenses associated with the removal of the emerald ash borer and upkeep of Myrick Center caused it to go over budget. The resolution passed after council member Martin Gaul introduced an amendment to take the money from the 2015 general expense carry-over funds, rather than the city’s reserves. Gaul argued that taking money from reserves set a bad precedent.
  • Approved the implementation of a sewer connection fee for new users outside of La Crosse city limits. The fee is based off of a report from Trilogy Consulting LLC, which suggested new residences hoping to send sewage to the Isle la Plume Waste Water Treatment Facility be charged $730. Proponents of the fee say it will ask new users to chip in for state-of-the-art upgrades current rate-payers have supported. The fee will be based upon average flow rates and the value of the system used by newcomers. City staff will prepare a written policy for the application of the charges and present them to the council by June.
  • Approved $477,000 in pedestrian safety improvements for the Grandview Emerson Neighborhood Association. Among the changes is a lighted-crossing on the corner of La Crosse Street and Myrick Park Lane to facilitate walkers and bikers hoping to cross into Myrick Park. Proponents say the projects will prevent collisions like the one that killed Jing Gu, a UW-L student, in 2012.

La Crosse city government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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