La Crosse Municipal Boat Harbor

The city of La Crosse is weighing the future of its municipal marina on Isle la Plume.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

The city of La Crosse will spend $1.8 million to repair the Isle la Plume marina and $1.14 million on the Riverside Park band shell after a pair of Thursday decisions by the Common Council.

The council also overturned the Weagel Schubert Meat Market’s historical designation, sustained a mayoral veto on a 21st Street duplex project and eliminated a $50 annual fee for sprinkler systems in boulevards.

The council unanimously approved a measure to allocate funding for the marina at 1500 Joseph Houska Drive, which would increase accessibility and bring the facility up to state and federal standards.

“The city would step in, address the infrastructure issues and regulatory challenges now, and I believe that’s really our only course if we want to meet that May deadline,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said.

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Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

While the marina was operated on behalf of the city by La Crosse Municipal Harbor Inc. for many years, the city began eviction proceedings last year, accusing longtime operator Steve Mills of defaulting on the terms of his lease. Although Mills filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, which paused the eviction process, a judge ruled in May that the company cannot assume a new lease for the city’s harbor while it is in bankruptcy.

Dennis Smalley of the La Crosse Boat Harbor Neighborhood encouraged the city to spend the money on a facility, which would support its current users and bring tourism dollars from boaters visiting the city.

“We are not a parking lot for boats. That’s what we aren’t and that’s what we don’t want to be,” Smalley said. “We’re a registered neighborhood with the city. My friends and my family, they live there.”

While Smalley lives in Westby, his family has used the harbor for 25 years, and he has spent five or six days a week at the harbor for the last six years.

“As a boater and someone who has been down to the harbor, it’s pretty easy to do the math of how much money comes in through that place,” Smalley said. “This is money that’s going to come back and if you choose to continue to manage the harbor, it’s going to be a revenue generator.”

He and his neighborhood would like to see some changes to the proposed design and timeline, however. He suggested leaving the existing docks and replacing the Styrofoam currently used to keep them afloat, which isn’t allowed by Department of Natural Resources standards, with another material, as well as upgrading the water and electrical without changing the location of the gas and pump out dock.

“If you kept the harbor the way it is, then everybody would have a slip,” Smalley said. “Then you phase in a lot of things.”

Kabat also urged the council to approve the funds, as well as direct the city’s parks board to develop a long-term plan for the area, both for operations and recreation nearby.

The council also unanimously approved $1.14 million for the Riverside Park band shell, a project that has been in the works since 2010.

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La Crosse War Eagle mural may be sunk; building likely to be razed for car lot

The former Weagel Schubert Meat Market and residence at 520 S. Third St. includes a mural of the War Eagle riverboat on its north side.

War Eagle

After another lengthy discussion Thursday, the council also overturned a Heritage Preservation Commission decision to designate 520 Third St. S., the building known for its War Eagle mural, a historic landmark.

The decision allows the building’s owner, Renegade Enterprises LLC’s Ron Pischke, to tear down the building to make way for additional space to sell automobiles at Pischke Motors. Pischke argued that the building, which has been vacant for more than a decade, did not warrant the designation as it was outside of the historic downtown district and in disrepair, adding that the mural didn’t qualify as a historic landmark by itself.

“There’s nothing unique in regard to the historical use of this building,” he said.

Opponents of the decision said the 130-year-old building was a part of the city’s history and the city should not allow it to be torn down.

In other business, the council declined to override Kabat’s veto of a duplex proposed for 21st Street in the Grandview Emerson neighborhood by developer David Olson. In a letter to the council, Kabat said the development was not in the city’s best interest and didn’t fit in with city plans for single-family housing in the area or meet the standards for traditional neighborhood development.

The council also unanimously approved a measure to eliminate a $50 annual fee for sprinkler systems — a fee criticized as unenforceable and excessive by Kabat and council president Martin Gaul.

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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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