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UW president reprimands Gow over porn star visit; chancellor defends speech

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow has been scolded by his boss for discreetly booking a porn star to speak on campus earlier this month.




The embattled chancellor, however, is standing his ground.

In a Nov. 6 letter of reprimand addressed to Gow, UW System President Ray Cross wrote that he was “deeply disappointed by (Gow’s) decision to actively recruit, advocate for, and pay for a porn star” to visit campus, and said he would be scrutinizing the chancellor’s spending.

Cross also expressed frustration that he learned of the visit not through Gow or school officials, but through media reports on the event and the backlash.

“While I understand and appreciate your commitment to freedom of expression and public discourse, as Chancellor, you need to exercise better judgment when dealing with matters such as these,” Cross wrote in the letter, obtained by the Tribune on Wednesday. “In light of my prior cautions about your interactions with the media and your need to hire a public information officer, this should not have happened.”

Gow has staunchly defended his decision to book Nina Hartley, a longtime adult film actress and sex educator, citing the UW System’s Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression policy.

“I think we see things differently,” Gow said of the president’s letter on Wednesday. “I think the free speech policy is very clear that each chancellor is responsible for implementing that policy, and I took that seriously and did my best effort on this. I was approaching things from a very pure, free speech perspective.”

On Nov. 1, Hartley, 59, spoke to about 70 students and staff members at Centennial Hall. She touched on everything from female empowerment and consent, to the importance of distinguishing porn from reality.

While Gow celebrated the visit as an example of free speech, members of his own campus questioned whether it was moral for a porn star to visit campus, and why the event had been kept under wraps. Hartley’s appearance was not promoted on the university’s online events calendar and was not made known to the press.

Initially, Gow refused to budge from his position. Then Cross’ letter landed on his desk.

“I’m writing to let you know how sorry I am for the sensationalistic media attention UW-L has received as a result of a speaker I brought to campus to help us celebrate Free Speech Week,” he wrote in a subsequent letter to students and faculty. “Regrettably, in many media headlines and accounts, the speaker’s profession completely overwhelmed her message. I admit that in inviting her to present at our university I was naive about this possibility, and I have learned much from it.”

Gow also agreed to personally compensate the university for Hartley’s $5,000 appearance fee, and to book a speaker from an anti-porn organization.

But all that was before the chancellor doubled down on Wednesday, further evidence that the Gow-Hartley media storm is not blowing over.

In his letter of reprimand, Cross said he fears the unwanted attention might detract from UW’s budget request and capital plan.

He called for a four-year retroactive audit of Gow’s discretionary fund — the one originally used to pay Hartley — and warned that Gow might not receive a raise this year. His salary is $220,000.

The unflattering spotlight on Gow has come at an inconvenient time for the university.

On Dec. 6 and 7, UW-L is hosting a meeting of the Board of Regents, traditionally a chance to highlight positive developments on campus.

Regents will also discuss pay raises for chancellors during the visit.

PDF: Gow letter or reprimand

Joe Gow: Why Nina Hartley spoke at UW-La Crosse

Noted sex educator and free expression advocate Nina Hartley recently visited UW-La Crosse, and in the days since I’ve been asked: Why did you, the chancellor of the university, invite a porn star to speak on your campus?

Senior citizens try their hand at speed dating at UW-La Crosse
Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Linda Schneider has a conversation during a speed dating event for senior citizens at UW-La Crosse.

Elvis and Sinatra sang songs about love.

Couples played with their coffee cups, exchanging shy smiles.

And for a moment, the third floor of UW-La Crosse’s Student Union resembled some forgotten cafe, a picture cut out of the past, hung up in the present.

“Most places that people go to meet each other are designed for young or middle-aged people,” said sociology professor Dawn Norris, who, with the help of her students, organized a speed dating event for the area’s senior citizens.

“It’s really sweet to see them connect,” said Angela Steffens, a sociology major. “Not necessarily for love, but for friendship, too.”

More than two dozen seniors rolled up to the university in their Sunday best on Wednesday — the women with lipstick and made-up hair, the men in jackets and sweaters, a boyish twinkle in their eyes.

“I heard about it this morning and came on a whim,” said a man who asked to be called Pete King, a fake name. King said he was single and ready to find his queen.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Paul Nau chats with Mary Yeomans during a speed dating event for people older than 65 at UW-La Crosse.

“It does get harder to meet people as you age,” he said. “I’ve been looking, tried dating sites and all that. The trouble is, when you’re older, you’re just so set in your ways.”

Couples were given five minutes to talk with each other, to discuss the weather, or current events, or how the Beatles wrote songs far, far better than the ones on the radio.

At the end of the five minutes, a bell would ring. The couples would fill out a scorecard, grading the date, and decide if they’re open to spending more time together. Then the women in the room would move on to the next table, the next date.

Mary Lee, 71, came in search of friends, of a good time, she said. Lee, who used to work in a nursing home, is a widow.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’m not looking for anything serious. Just a friend, maybe.”

Justin Odulana, 70-something, was nervous as he waited for the dates to begin — but not with the butterflies that usually accompany romance.

“You look around, and you’re the only black person,” said Odulana, who’s originally from Nigeria but lives in La Crosse. “I like going on walks, reading, volunteering. I’m looking for someone with the same traits, someone who likes to give back.”

Norris, who was inspired by “The Age of Love,” a documentary on senior speed dating, said it’s common for people in their golden years to develop with social isolation.

Over the years, they lose siblings and friends — possibly spouses — and it becomes harder and harder to meet new people, to make meaningful connections.

“This will be a success if even a few people find a new friend, a new companion,” said Norris, adding that she would like to do this again.

A few dates under their belts, the group opened up. The chatter built, like a wave, as the daters dusted off their old moves. Then the bell rang, dissolving it all.

King, alone at his table, watched his next date walk up. He smiled as she sat down, eager to make a good impression.

“It’s nice to meet you ...” he said, leaning forward and peering through his glasses, “... Rhonda.”

Two new concepts unveiled for La Crosse Center expansion
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Community members view two concept plans for the La Crosse Center expansion and renovation Wednesday during a public Input session at the La Crosse Center. The session, hosted by architect firm ISG, was one of multiple opportunities the public will have to weigh in on final designs in the coming months.

The La Crosse Center Board Wednesday unveiled two new concepts for the proposed $42 million renovation and expansion of the city-owned and operated convention center, much to the excitement of the dozens of people who attended the public input session.

The two concepts, called north and west due to the placement of the expansion relative to the rest of the building, address all the concerns that stalled the project last summer, according to La Crosse Center Board chair Brent Smith.

The concepts, which were presented by architects Will Kratt and Kevin Bills of ISG, don’t call for an expansion that goes into the park and don’t call for a budget of more than $42 million.

“We heard from the public. It was very clear,” Smith said.

Most importantly to Smith, both concepts address the three priorities set by the La Crosse Center Board several years ago: utilizing the beautiful view of the Mississippi River, addressing deferred maintenance and creating an atrium facing Second Street.

The two concepts — which both are viable with a $42 million budget — have a lot of overlap, with both including about 12,000 square feet of renovated area, 5,500 square feet of meeting rooms and areas for people to gather before events. More importantly, both ideas include an atrium facing Second Street with new restrooms and a new concessions area, something the architects said were priorities that allow for multiple events.

“Being able to connect any new expansion through the arena to south hall, being able to bypass the arena is really a key element as far as the facility functions today and into the future,” Bills said.

Both also include alternate features that could be added through the design process, such as an outdoor balcony and double-stacking the meeting rooms, which would double the size of meeting rooms. They also include exhibition halls incorporating natural light for trade shows to replace the 15,000-square-foot North Hall, which would be demolished under the plan.


ISG's concept art gives an idea of what the north concept would include.


ISG's concept art gives an idea of what the west concept would include.

The north concept is more compact, packing an exhibition hall, ballroom, offices and atrium into 57,000 square feet, taking up the space between the arena and the Pearl Street walkway, filling in the open space and the area where the north hall is now.

The ballroom would be 9,500 square feet, which can be divided into three rooms.

The west concept has a bit larger ballroom — coming in at 12,000 square feet — which can also be divided, and faces the Mississippi River.

“The west concept also has better opportunity for better views of the river and of Riverside Park,” Bills said.

It also has an optional add-on hallway to connect the new ballroom to the existing ballroom.

“So really all the convention space could be connected together with this connector potentially there,” Bills said.

The architects did take into account people asking about possible expansion to the south toward the Radisson Center, but Kratt said they were reluctant to fully develop that concept when the city does not own the property.

“With input from the public tonight, with (La Crosse Center Board) input, with input from other stakeholders, city staff we’ve been meeting with, we need to decide which base concept is going to put the La Crosse Center in the best position for years to come,” Kratt said.

While Kratt said the designs will both come in under the $42 million limit, the exact costs will be developed as the stakeholders pick out the exact square footage and pick out materials.

“The next biggest influencer is finishes, and the finishes are your exterior skin, the carpet, ceiling and walls, the amenities within the building,” Kratt said.

Smith was pleased with the turnout at the meeting, which packed the hallway outside the existing ballroom.

While there wasn’t a clear favorite concept yet, Smith said, people were eager to get going and optimistic that new concepts would move forward.

“What I hear most is, ‘Let’s go. Let’s get this done,’” Smith said. “Our competitors are doing things, they’re improving their buildings. We’ve got customers who are waiting to see what we’re going to do to make their plans, so it’s important to move forward.”

One of the people who came to share his opinion was Brock Coyle, who was more concerned with options for outside the building. He’d like to see options for people to do things outside, including practical art and architecture, which would connect the La Crosse Center to the park.

Tribcast episode 1: The La Crosse Center saga

For the inaugural episode of the La Crosse Tribune's flagship podcast, Jourdan Vian, Elizabeth Beyer and Scott Rada discuss the touch-and-go plan to give a facelift to a city staple.

“People are already skating and biking down at Riverside, so why not include some skateable, usable architecture that people can utilize while they’re here? People just come here for events and there’s not really a draw,” Coyle said.

As far as the concepts went, Coyle was leaning toward the one that puts the ballroom on the west side of the building.

“Then you’d have a beautiful view of the bridge and the river and take in all the natural beauty,” he said.

The La Crosse Center board and ISG are planning to host another public input session before the New Year and it has two more slated for 2019.

“We’re going to be hustling this next couple weeks,” Smith said.

If everything goes according to plan, the La Crosse Center will pick one of the concepts in the next few weeks and take its recommendation to a public hearing before the Finance and Personnel Committee in January and then the La Crosse Common Council.

If approved, the architects will get started on the schematic design phase, which will include more public input sessions.

“Schematic design is really where we’re making a lot of final decisions on size, built-ons and those sorts of things. Once we get into design and development, which would start in April, that’s where engineers, architects and designers are really getting into the details, and so we don’t want to be making huge changes at that point,” Kratt said.

There would be another input meeting in April, he said.

In the meantime, they’ll start working on the deferred maintenance portion, which can start as early as May if everything else stays on track.

The plan calls for construction to start in January 2020, with completion slated for February 2021.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

UW-La Crosse coach Karen Middleton watches the action from the bench during a WIAC first-round tournament game against UW-Eau Claire at Mitchell Hall last season.


Onalaska commission backs $16.4 million riverfront housing complex

ONALASKA — A proposal for a $16.4 million residential development won backing from the Onalaska Plan Commission after a public hearing Tuesday, but it was no slam dunk, with concerns raised about the impact on traffic and the city’s Black River park area.


Commission members voted 5-1 to recommend Onalaska Common Council approval for a general development plan for Great River Residences, which would bring 98 residential units to a three-block stretch of city-owned property on Court Street overlooking the Black River, just south of Great River Landing.

Commission member Craig Breitsprecher voted against the project, arguing there were too many unanswered questions, including what the city’s vision is for the park property below Great River Landing and whether having high-density residential development in the city’s historic downtown core is a policy decision that has been addressed.

“This is taking it directly to high-density residential. … I’m not sure that the decision has been made that that’s what’s supposed to be down there,” Breitsprecher said in urging more discussion at the commission level. “Passing this along without even having an inkling to what some of these answers are is not doing our due diligence. It’s passing the buck.”


Mayor Joe Chilsen, who chairs the commission, cut off discussion after Breitsprecher’s comments, calling the question on the motion for approval. “I think that we move this forward and let the full council talk it out,” Chilsen said. “I think it deserves that because I’m not ready to give up on this project.”

The council is expected to discuss the development at its Dec. 11 meeting.


The project, proposed by Marvin Wanders of Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions, would include four buildings, the largest of which would be a four-story building with 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments with one level of underground parking for 41 cars and additional surface parking. There also would be two townhome-type buildings with attached garages, one with 21 units and one with 12 units, both having a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom designs.

The fourth building would be a two-story mixed-use building on the north part of the site, with five studio apartments above 3,000-square-feet of commercial space.

Several people during the public hearing raised concerns about the traffic that will be added to Second Avenue, a heavily used commuter corridor. Not only would there be an estimated 3 percent increase in vehicular traffic as a result of the development, there also would be a lot more people on foot crossing Second Avenue to get to restaurants and other businesses, which could add to traffic backups during peak travel times.

“I think it’s going to be a mess down there,” Daniel Carroll said. “You’re kind of cramming a lot into a small space, and I just wonder about the traffic.”

Jarrod Holter, the city’s public works director, said incorporating the expected increase of 500 trips per day from the Great River Residences will be tricky but “doable.”

The master plan for the Great River Landing envisions the city’s property along the Black River as an area where visitors can commune with nature, whether its birdwatching, hiking or kayaking. Park Board member Andrea Benco questioned what the experience would be like for people when they look up from the river and see a four-story apartment building looming and hear the noise of passing trains bounced off the walls of those imposing edifices.

The city’s Comprehensive Plan, she noted, calls for residential development to retain and respect natural features, not dominate them.

“It would certainly dominate the view from below,” Benco said of the development. “It seems like a step back to me.”

A high-density residential project like this could be expected to draw a big crowd of neighboring homeowners speaking in opposition if proposed in any other area of the city, but there are few homes surrounding the proposed Great River Residences. The people who own two of those neighboring homes spoke at the hearing, but weren’t strongly opposed to the project.

This site map shows the layout of the four buildings to be part of Great River Residences, just south of Great River Landing in Onalaska.

Mainly, they wanted to make sure traffic and parking issues were given proper consideration, although John Kalas suggested that the city might want to consider keeping the property and enhancing the recreational attraction of Great River Landing.

Council member Jim Binash, who sits on the plan commission, pointed to Three Sixty’s track record on urban core development projects, noting that while there might be some details to be worked out that it was a project he can support. “If you spend over $16 million on a project, you’re going to make sure that it’s done right,” Binash said.

Wanders told the commission that the project will be a good fit for the neighborhood. The idea behind the project is to meet an increasing demand for apartment living in a pedestrian friendly urban core, spurring further commercial development in an area of the city that historically had been the center of business.

The city has long wanted to revitalize and enhance that Second Avenue corridor, and the Great River Landing is a big piece of that. With the addition of the David Reay’s restaurant and Dash-Park across from Great River Landing, the area is becoming a hub that will draw people who want an urban living experience close to nature and recreational amenities.


This architect's rendering shows a westward looking view of the proposed Great River Residences project.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful area,” Wanders said, noting that the noise of traffic and passing trains shouldn’t be an issue for residents. “People who want to live where the vitality is are willing to put up with some noise.”

In addition to approving the Great River Residences downtown planned unit development general development plan, the commission also approved setting a public hearing on an application by Three Sixty for a pay-as-you-go tax-increment financing district. In this kind of TIF district, Three Sixty pays all the costs but would be reimbursed for eligible costs.

Normally with TIF districts, municipalities pay certain expenses up front to encourage development and then get paid back from the “increment,” which is the increase in the value of the property that comes with building. With the pay-as-you-go model, all the tax money on the increased value of the property going to all jurisdictions (city, school and county) would be used to reimburse the developer.

Wanders said the financial boost offered by the TIF district is essential to the viability of the project. Developing the property will require a lot of site preparation because soil borings indicate a lot of improperly compacted fill underlies the site. All that fill will need to be removed and new properly compacted soil put in place, a process that Wanders estimates will cost about $1.7 million.

In other business

The commission also recommended approval for a residential subdivision of 18 single-family lots north of Hwy. 16 on the east side of town. The project proposed by Jacob Burch of Logistics Development Group, also is a planned unit development, like Great River Residences. That approach is used when a project might require departures from normal requirements, such as lot size, density, setback, road width and other factors.

The proposed Crestwood Estates development, which would feature homes valued at more than $500,000 each on lots of nearly an acre, would be served by an extension of Crestwood Lane (currently a cul-de-sac).

The majority of the discussion on the proposal focused on whether the city should encourage or require installation of sprinkler systems for fire suppression. The subdivision features some steep terrain that could make it difficult or impossible to get fire trucks in place to respond to a blaze.

Fire Chief William Hayes urged the commission to require sprinkler systems, an additional investment of $3,000 to $5,000 that translates to 80 percent fewer deaths in house fires.

Some commission members had reservations about requiring sprinkler systems in single-family homes, something the city has not done before, arguing it should be left up to homeowners. “I’m very skeptical about protecting people to the nth degree,” commission member Knute Temte said.

Holter suggested that the city might need to address the possibility of requiring sprinkler systems in homes on a broader scale rather than one development at a time.

The commission unanimously backed the subdivision with no requirement for sprinkler system installation.

The commission also was unanimous in supporting a conditional-use permit for construction of a 22,000-square-foot Kenworth truck sales and service operation at 4101 North Kinney Coulee Road, on the north side of I-90 near the county landfill.

The commission also recommended waiving the design standards that would have required decorative masonry on the side of the building facing the street, allowing the CSM Truck to have a building made of insulated metal panels.

The building will be a new home for the existing Kenworth dealer on Berlin Drive in La Crosse’s business park.


Rep. Ron Kind votes against Nancy Pelosi's bid for speaker

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, has again voted against Nancy Pelosi continuing as leader of the Democrats in the U.S. House.

“My first priority has always been standing up for Wisconsin, and the values that Wisconsinites hold. I thank Nancy Pelosi for her years of service to the House of Representatives and the Democratic Party, but I believe it is time for new leadership that moves Wisconsin — and America — forward,” Kind said in a statement released by his office.