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La Crosse County Board open to discussion on La Crosse Center contribution

La Crosse County Board members weren’t thrilled Monday with how the process of funding the $42 million La Crosse Center renovation and expansion played out; however, they were willing to discuss contributing, provided it’s proven to be a wise investment.

The board discussed La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat’s request that the county contribute $2 million over 20 years, or $100,000 per year, at its planning meeting. According to the proposal laid out by Kabat, the $100,000 would go toward debt service payments taken on the $35 million in borrowing the city approved in 2016 for the project.

The board directed staff members to gather more information and plans to discuss a resolution at its June meetings, which would declare the county’s intent to contribute funds from its 2020 budget.


Board member Monica Kruse said she was a huge proponent of regional collaboration but added that the planning process for the La Crosse Center should have included more input from the county.

“It was one entity making decisions, and then asking other entities to contribute to that decision, so that’s really regrettable and I think we really got off on the wrong foot,” Kruse said.

However, she encouraged her fellow county board members to look at the potential contribution to the La Crosse Center project as an investment.

“As an investment, we should be looking at what’s in it for us, so down the line, what are we going to be gaining by increased size of the center, increased income, increased sales tax, and I think our investment should be commensurate with that,” Kruse said.


County board member Steve Doyle said he would be comfortable with allocating sales tax generated as a result of the increase in area spending and economic impact of the La Crosse Center

“If the city of La Crosse does all the work to expand the La Crosse Center and it brings in another $60,000 a year, we had nothing to do with that … We’re not asking our taxpayers outside the city of La Crosse to sacrifice anything,” Doyle said.

It would be similar to when the county contributed funding for the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Veterans Memorial Stadium.

“Tweak it, finesse it to make sure we’ve got the right numbers, but that’d be the angle I would look at,” Doyle said.


Patrick Barlow, who represents Holmen both as a county board member and the newly elected village president, was skeptical that conferences in La Crosse would lead to an increase in spending in Holmen.

“I struggle with the logic of a major conference in the city of La Crosse happening and the people are running up to Holmen for the hotdogs at the Mob Stop and Features,” Barlow said. “That’s a gut feeling, but I’m a data person.”

He asked the county staff to bring some more information and numbers and how the expansion would benefit Holmen, West Salem and other municipalities, as well as how Kabat’s proposal would affect the La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

County administrator Steve O’Malley laid out a series of questions he had about the project, including whether the projected property tax impact would affect other city capital investment priorities and what the net impact on the county budget would be.

“We have many underfunded mandates, so this will be a difficult issue for you to wrestle with, as important as the La Crosse Center is,” O’Malley told the board. “We haven’t had any role in any of the decisions as far as about postponing maintenance, about what level of expansion, about how you fund that.”

The county board also discussed options for having county representation on the La Crosse Center Board and more say in how the facility is run in return for its investment.


County board chairwoman Tara Johnson asked her fellow board members if there could be ways to leverage $178,000 in tax increment district dollars to encourage other investment in the center.

“There’s been a little bit of snark. There’s been an appropriate amount of pushback on process or lack of process, but I’m also hearing in general that we want more information, we are interested in being data-driven in making this decision and that requires some more work on the part of staff,” Johnson said.

The La Crosse Common Council will also discuss its financing plan in June after referring a resolution to raise the hotel room tax and another that lays out how the debt service payments will be made.


Garden Terrace apartments near completion on La Crosse's North Side
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Rep. Ron Kind is accompanied by Caroline Gregerson, La Crosse city community development coordinator, speaks at the construction site of Garden Terrace Apartments. Kind was instrumental in securing the HUD Community Development Block Grant that made the project possible.

The scent of fresh paint and drywall putty was in the air Monday at the Garden Terrace Apartments on La Crosse’s North Side.

The project, which was made possible in part by community development block grants, is on schedule for a July 1 opening, according to La Crosse community development administrator Caroline Gregerson, who organized a tour of the new building with U.S. Rep. Ron Kind as a way to kick off National Community Development Week 2019.

“This project literally could not have happened without this program and these federal dollars,” Gregerson said.

When complete this summer, the building, which sits on the 800 block of Kane Street, will add 50 units of mixed-income housing, including one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, as well as a community center and green house for the Kane Street Community Gardens to the city’s North Side. The nonprofit developer, Impact Seven, has set aside 15 of those units for homeless veterans, giving them a roof over their head while they get themselves back on their feet.

The $10.6 million project received $136,000 in tax increment financing and $700,000 in community development block grant funds through the city of La Crosse.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Garden Terrace Apartments will include a community center, above, and a green house in partnership with nearby the Hunger Task Force-Kane Street Community Garden.

Kind was integral to getting those dollars in the federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budget, Gregerson said.

“This project doesn’t happen without his support in Washington, D.C. For yet another year, we had the president actually zero out this program in the federal budget, and it gets rescued during the congressional proceedings by people like Congressman Kind,” Gregerson said.

Kind said he was happy to fight to keep that program in the budget because it leverages federal resources to help people reinvest in their community.

“It’s not all the money that takes care of the project, but it’s important seed money to bring the partners to the table in order to pull it off,” Kind said.

HUD’s community development block grant program is an example of Americans coming together and pooling their resources, said Kind, D-La Crosse.

“We’re all in this together and the way to make it happen is to pool our resources from East Coast to West Coast to make sure these crucial investments are happening everywhere in our country,” Kind said.

The grant program is unique, because HUD gives local municipalities control over allocations. The Community Development Committee votes on how those funds are used each spring.

“They let us come up with La Crosse-based solutions to our issues. It’s not somebody in D.C. telling us what to do. We talk to the citizens, we ask, ‘What are your issues?’ and definitely when we looked at the survey, affordable housing came up and quality housing came up,” Gregerson said.

The city conducted a Fair Housing survey during several months which was released earlier this year.

“We just finished up a study where the No. 1 issue in La Crosse is not enough affordable housing, not being able to find the apartment I want to rent at the price that I can afford,” Gregerson said. “This is directly going to improve things for city residents.”

Kind was especially glad to see it happening on the North Side, which he described as his old stomping grounds.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Angel Mendoza with Thompson Drywall & Plaster, subcontracting for Borton Construction, works at the construction site of the 50 unit Garden Terrace Apartments at 800 Kane St. The project was made possible through contributions from a HUD Community Development Block Grant and will provide mixed income housing with 15 of the units dedicated to homeless veterans.

“It’s neat to see the North Side continuing this development and the project here,” Kind said, likening it to the redevelopment of Roosevelt Elementary into a similar housing project a few years ago. “It turned out to be great. They were able to preserve the historic designation with Roosevelt, including my old locker — locker No. 15.”

The project is a good example of the good community development funds can do, because it took a place that had a lot going for it – such as adjacency to a park and a community garden – and helped developers make reinvestment happen, Gregerson said.

“You couldn’t ask for a better location, but a lot of traditional investors would pass it up because of the floodplain issues,” she said.

That means it required a lot of work to get it up out of the floodplain and a detailed plan to keep stormwater from running onto neighboring properties. Contractor Borton Construction built an underground stormwater facility to hold run-off that will sit underneath the parking lot when it’s completed.

“We’ve seen that there’s been a lot of disinvestment on the North Side because of those floodplain issues, because of the monthly flood insurance rates going up. This is a project where we’re reinvesting back in the neighborhood, we’re encouraging people to live on the North Side,” Gregerson said.

Everything is on track for the apartments to be open in July.

Delayed barge season because of flooding has farmers, distributors watching and waiting
John Schultz, Quad-City Times 

A boat with Canadian Pacific workers goes to pick up more sand bags Monday as they try to strengthen the dikes in downtown Davenport, Iowa. To see more photos of the flooding in the Quad Cities, click here.

Barge traffic through La Crosse usually starts around mid-March, but there’s been only one boat and tow through these parts.

Not long after the Aaron F. Barrett pushed 12 barges through Lock and Dam 2 near Hastings, Minn., on April 24, marking this year’s official start to commercial navigation, river traffic ground to a halt.

Heavy snows followed by rapid snowmelt, saturated soil and additional rainfall has left parts of the Mississippi River in perpetual flood stage for more than a month.

Most recently, record-breaking floods in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri has kept the lock and dam navigation system closed to barges waiting to move upstream.

Inland shipping along the Mississippi River relies on 29 locks and dams that move vessels through stepwise pools of water 9 feet deep — a 420-foot difference in elevation over about 860 river miles. There are no boats locking up or down the river from St. Louis to Lock and Dam 8 near Genoa, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lock status report.

In fact, 2019 is the second latest start to the commercial navigation season, said Patrick Loch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson for the St. Paul District.

The latest start was in 2001, when the first barge didn’t make it through Lock and Dam 2 until May 11, also because of major flooding.

The late start is “going to have quite an impact,” said John Noyes, president of F.J. Robers Co., a loading facility for barges, rail, and trucks. F.J. Robers contracts with Cargill, a global business to business food supply chain, to load grain in La Crosse.

Last year, his company loaded 2.5 million bushels of grain onto barges in April, Noyes said. “This year, it’s been zero.”

Noyes said his grain bins are full, but he’s out of fertilizer, salt and other winter supplies. “It’s not just here. It’s all the way from Minneapolis down to St. Louis.”

This puts farmers that haven’t already delivered their corn and soybeans in a bind, said Todd Servais, board president of the La Crosse County Farm Bureau.

“A contract has to be filled. Until you fill it, you don’t get paid,” Servais said. Without the money from these sales, farmers might have to take out loans to buy seeds for this year.

The lack of barge traffic also could make it harder for farmers to get fertilizer, which is usually pre-ordered, Servais said. This comes at a time when farmers are getting ready to plant, though excess rain has pushed the start of planting season back by five to seven days, Servais said.

“Everybody’s sitting on the edge of their seats,” said Tim Clemens, CEO of Allied Cooperative, a farming cooperative that supplies seeds, fertilizers and other services, and has a branch in West Salem. “It hasn’t affected us yet, but the threat is there.”

Despite lock and dam outages on the Mississippi River, Clemens said they have enough fertilizer, delivered by cargo ships through the Gulf of Mexico, for now.

“We’re pulling off the Illinois River to get it delivered,” Clemens said.

When or whether they run out depends on how quickly farmers go through their fertilizer this planting season and how soon the river comes down, Clemens said. “If it’s kind of dry (outside), we could be out (of some fertilizers) in seven to 10 days.”

Without barges on the river road, commodities and goods could be shipped by rail or truck at greater cost.

“We really depend on the river a lot, probably too much, but barge is the most economical way to move things,” Clemens said. “I’ve never seen the logistics backed up this bad due to weather in my career. What can you do? It’s Mother Nature throwing us a curveball.”

Todd Sommerfeldt / ASSOCIATED PRESS 

Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts after making a basket and drawing a foul as Boston's Marcus Morris turns away during Monday night's game in Boston. The Bucks beat the Celtics 113-101 to take a 3-1 lead in their NBA Eastern Conference playoff series.




Tomah man charged in 3-year-old's death

The death of a 3-year-old boy in Tomah is being investigated as a homicide.

Marcus W. Anderson

Marcus W. Anderson, 34, Tomah, was referred to the Monroe County District Attorney for reckless homicide in the death of the boy, whose name has not been released.

Tomah police and Tomah Area Ambulance Service personnel were called to a medical emergency May 3 at a Jodi Circle residence shortly before 6 p.m. and immediately began first-aid treatment on the child. He was transported to Tomah Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Information gathered at the scene led police to believe that the cause of death was child abuse. Anderson was located in downtown Tomah a short time later and taken into custody during what police described as a “high-risk vehicle contact.”

A forensic autopsy was performed May 4 by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Pathology. The autopsy determined that the victim suffered multiple blunt force trauma injuries that caused his death.

During a search of Anderson’s residence, a firearm was located that was determined to be Anderson’s.

Anderson was reportedly in a relationship with the child’s mother.

Anderson is being held in the Monroe County Jail on $750,000 bond. He was also referred to the district attorney for felon in possession of a firearm, child abuse causing significant bodily harm and four counts of felony bail jumping.