$5.5 million renovation planned at former Michel Brewery building in downtown La Crosse

Dahl Automotive aims to invest $5.5 million into the former C.J. Michel Brewery bottling house at Second and Division streets.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

A nearly 110-year-old brewery bottling house on the south side of downtown La Crosse could see new life, and the project could get a boost from a state grant.

Wednesday morning, the La Crosse County Board’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to apply for grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.'s Community Development Investment Grant Program to help renovate the building, which was built in 1908 as part of a major expansion of the C.J. Michel Brewery, a company that lasted 99 years in La Crosse (1857-1956).

The two-story brick building on the southeast corner of Second and Division streets, the last surviving building from the Michel Brewery campus, has been owned since 1995 by Dahl Automotive. It has been used for storage, but the company has plans for a $5.5 million renovation and addition project, according to Jansen Dahl, vice president of Dahl Automotive Holdings.

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Jansen Dahl

Dahl

Paint would be removed from the exterior of the building, with extensive tuckpointing planned to restore the historic look of the building’s exterior, and new windows would be installed where now they are boarded over, Dahl said.

Plans call for moving the support offices for Dahl Automotive into the renovated building from their current spot in the Trust Point building, Dahl said. In addition, there would be room to lease for offices and possibly a coffee shop or restaurant.

“It’s a neat building. We’ve been going back and forth about should we conserve it or demolish it,” Dahl said. “I think it’s going to be a good thing for the city of La Crosse. We see a lot of interest in the property.”

The WEDC grant is not tied to job creation, as are some other grants from the agency. Instead, this grant program aims to aid projects that are likely to spur more investment in redevelopment of an area. This project is a great fit for the grant program, according to Brian Fukuda, the county’s community development specialist.

The maximum grant under the program is $500,000, but Fukuda said it looks likely Dahl will seek a $250,000 grant.

Fukuda figured the Dahl project has a very good chance of getting the grant, considering that it preserves and enhances a historic building that is located in an area that could use some investment. “It will have some ripple effects in that area,” he said. “They’re making a significant investment over the course of a number of years. This will be a really nice use that should really liven up that area of downtown.”

Dahl agreed on the projects catalytic potential. “South of the Cass Street Bridge is really ripe for redevelopment,” he said. “We think it could be a catalyst for further development. … The waterfront area is going to come along and be developed soon.”

The tentative timeline for the project calls for starting next spring and completing the work by the end of the year, Dahl said.

This is the first time the county has applied for a grant under this WEDC program. The program requires a local unit of government to apply — businesses can’t seek grants directly — and a unit of government can only apply for one grant per year. The city of La Crosse already has applied for a grant for a Pearl Street Brewery project, so the county decided to step in to help get the Dahl project moving.

While it is the first time, Fukuda indicated it might not be the last. “We’ll certainly look to pursue doing this for other projects around the county,” he said.

Fukuda said the risk to the county in applying for the grant is minimal as the funding is used to reimburse companies after they have completed projects, and the only cost to the county is staff time in preparing the grant application and administering the funds.

“I don’t see a downside yet,” said county board member Sharon Hampson.

The full La Crosse County Board will vote on the grant application at its Sept. 21 meeting.


43 buildings in the La Crosse area that no longer exist

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Randy Erickson, formerly the editor of the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life and Coulee News, covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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