Riverside North Aerial

The Riverside North site is one of the last large undeveloped pieces of property in La Crosse.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune

The Weber Group, Gerrard Hoeschler and River Architects are among nine developers that have expressed interest in working with the city of La Crosse to develop Riverside North.

The city’s Redevelopment Authority requested expressions of interest, or RFEI, this spring to start a dialogue with companies and individuals interested in helping the city bring its vision for the 65-acre parcel just north of downtown La Crosse to life. It received nine letters from developers, which included some interested in acting as a master developer and others hoping to add housing or commercial space to the area.

Committee chairman Edward Prztarski was pleased to see the variety of interest, from small and large, local and outside developers, which he said would be “critical” to the project’s success.

“It was nice to see the perspective that we have not only local people but others,” Prztarski said.

City planner Jason Gilman will begin to meet face-to-face with developers in the next two months to learn more about their specific interests, levels of investment and whether any hope to serve as a master developer.

“We’re starting with that early dialogue to find out what the market can sustain and what the market is and what they’d expect to see from the city,” Gilman said.

As the project moves forward, Gilman will ask developers to come before the group to interview; however, he said the panel likely won’t pick a single developer to tackle the whole project.

“My guess is that as this process unfolds, we are going to find that there is going to be some synergy between the different groups, so it won’t be that we pick one and everybody else loses,” Gilman said. “It probably won’t be that type of a proposition.”

Among those interested is The Weber Group, which is responsible for the Riverside Center projects, Charmant Hotel and the Belle Square development currently under construction on the former La Crosse County Lot C property. According to a letter to the city’s planning department, the group’s vice president, Nick Weber, is interested in working with Kubala Washatko Architects Inc. to create a mixed-use urban development plan to expand upon a master site plan created during a weeklong public planning exercise two years ago.

The charrette in May 2014 left the city with a detailed vision for the property between Copeland Avenue and the Mississippi River, which is one of the last significant parcels of land available for development within the city; however, the $2.4 million price tag for soil fill to bring the 35-acres available for development out of flood plain has stalled the project.

Rick Staff of Gerrard Hoeschler and Shelter Development was also among those who expressed interest, writing that he would explore options to build upon the master plan and incorporate a concert hall and gallery in the northwest corner of the space. Staff’s letter to the city also indicated he has plans to explore opportunities to collaborate with University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s River Studies Center, which would allow students to study the three rivers — Mississippi, Black and La Crosse — that flow through the area.

River Architects is interested in a comparatively smaller project, potentially taking on the design and development of a new corporate headquarters for Authenticom, the downtown La Crosse business that employs more than 120 people.

Others who expressed interest include Joe Van Aelstyn, Americon-Three Amigos Development, Nicolai Development, Wired Properties, MSP Cos. and Rosewood Development of Holmen.

“I think we’ll have more interest trickling in as we move forward,” Gilman said.

According to Gilman, any city investment will likely be funded through a reverse tax increment financing deal, where developers would commit to doing the first phase of the project, then the tax base, or increment, created by the first phase would pay for the infrastructure needed.

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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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