Sustainable urban agriculture could soon take root in downtown La Crosse, thanks to a creative solution by a community partnership.
Western Technical College, Hillview Urban Agriculture Center and Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare announced Monday that they are teaming up to create the the Urban Landscape and Agriculture Center at Seventh and Vine streets.
The greenhouse, which will occupy WTC’s former Ivy Motel residence hall, will lease its space to HUAC at a reduced rate.
In return, HUAC will donate its land on North 24th Street to Western, which will tear down the old greenhouse and build and sell five energy-efficient, single-family homes on the five lots.
The proposed $1.6 million facility would not only be an educational resource for the college but also a year-round community space used for promoting public health and a gathering place for activities and service learning.
“What a win-win opportunity this is for Western, for Hillview, for Mayo and for the whole community,” said Lee Rasch, president of Western Technical College. “We’re absolutely delighted.”
The opportunity for the collaboration began to take shape about two years ago, said Leann Carson, president of HUAC.
The organization’s greenhouse on 24th Street in La Crosse had become dilapidated and out of date, she said, and the high cost of operation didn’t make sense.
“It cost $13,000 a month for heating to grow tomatoes,” she said. “That’s not sustainable.”
Western has previously leased space at the Hillview Greenhouse for its landscape horticulture program but wanted a more permanent space. The college couldn’t buy the existing property, but it could build a new one, Carlson said.
And when Mayo Clinic Health System heard about HUAC’s $220,000 mortgage, it stepped up and issued a challenge grant for $110,000, which the La Crosse Community Foundation matched.
“We are what we eat, so as a health care organization we are so committed to trying to improve the health of our community,” said Joe Kruse, chief administrative officer of operations at Mayo Clinic Health System - Franciscan Healthcare. “This just feels right for us to be involved in this way.”
The new greenhouse facility is part of Western’s $79.8 million Vision 2020 referendum package, which is up for a vote this November.
Rasch anticipates public support of the referendum, which would create an estimated $112 million in economic activity, create more than 900 jobs and generate $3.4 million in tax revenue by the time the project is completed by 2016, according to Western.
“We could start construction on this project in spring,” said Rasch. “Within a year, it would be a reality.”
The project will continue even if the referendum fails. But Rasch said the most exciting part is the opportunity for the partners to participate in Western’s new Sustainability Institute.
“It’s a new initiative launching to promote community awareness through seminars, courses, and certificates related to various aspects in sustainability,” he said. “It brings value to our region. These partners are behind that.”