The proposed $42 million La Crosse Center renovation and expansion would increase the city-owned convention center’s annual economic output by about $6.3 million, according to a third-party study released Wednesday by the center board.
That $6.3 million would be on top of the $38 million per year the La Crosse Center already brings into the local economy, according to Convention Sports & Leisure of Minneapolis.
“I think there’s a few events you can attract that you don’t get today because of the new space. It is a beautiful renovation and an asset, but it’s about 15 percent, probably in that range. You’re not doubling your impact,” said John Kaatz of CSL, who did the analysis.
CSL presented the study to the La Crosse Center Board this week after the La Crosse Common Council asked for an objective view into how the proposed concept — which is smaller, and less expensive, than the concepts voted down by the council last July — would affect both the La Crosse Center operations and the area as a whole.
Kaatz said the biggest increase in usage would be for banquet-type events in the new ballroom.
“It could be a variety of different organizations — some local, some out of town — that are going to take advantage of what is probably one of the nicest ballroom spaces in the state, candidly, in terms of the views you’re creating and overlooking the river,” Kaatz said. “I think it’s going to be a destination for those types of events.”
Kaatz’s estimated budget represents a 13 percent increase in revenue and a 17 percent increase in operating expenses.
“We tend to be fairly conservative in these, so we don’t want to suggest the investment is going to generate significant increases in operating revenue,” Kaatz said.
Kaatz worked in tandem with La Crosse Center staff to analyze historical data, estimated length and number of events, average number of people who attend those events, making allowances for people who are near enough to commute from home, rather than stay downtown.
“It’s a pretty straightforward process, scrutinizing each variable, relative to your history and what we’re seeing in the industry,” Kaatz said.
La Crosse Center Board chairman Brent Smith said it was fairly consistent with other economic impact estimates done throughout the expansion process, particularly that the expansion will largely retain current business and add some modest growth to usage.
“We’re not going to immediately the first year have as much business as we will by year three,” Smith said.
According to CSL’s analysis, La Crosse Center profits would fall $76,000 the first year and $60,000 the second year, before evening out at $41,000 in the third year, once operations and usage adjust to the change. Overall, the center would continue to end each year in a positive financial position; although, it likely wouldn’t make as much as it does now. The center made $344,000 in 2018.
CSL also recommended adding three new positions and noted that current staffing levels at the center are below levels needed for maximum efficiency.
The study was based on the assumption that the addition will include 12,000 square feet of ballroom space, 5,400 square feet of meeting space and about 18,000 square feet of combined North Hall and atrium space.
Kaatz weighed in on the potential special features being considered by the board, saying he thought the hallway connecting the two ballrooms should be the highest priority.
“Forcing attendees to go all around North Hall, all through the front of the building and through there won’t work. That west connector to me, logistically, is a critical component of all that,” Kaatz said.
La Crosse Center Board members will meet at 4 p.m. Friday to finalize their recommendation for those features, with the intention of asking the La Crosse Common Council to vote on the schematic design in April.
Visiting from Japan, Hagihara Yoshiki and Yamamoto Miyuki say they have deeply enjoyed their time in La Crosse — except for two things.
“The food is so sweet,” Yoshiki said. “I like sweet, but it’s too sweet.”
“There is a lot of snow,” Miyuki said. “In my hometown, I have never seen so much snow.”
Yoshiki and Miyuki have spent the past two weeks here, along with a dozen of their peers from the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka — a delegation organized by UW-La Crosse’s English as a Second Language Institute.
On Wednesday, the group was at North Woods International School to learn how education in America differs from education in Japan, and to share their culture and traditions with local students.
“It’s great to get them into the classroom not just to observe, but to teach and participate,” said Todd Jay Leonard, the group’s chaperone and a professor at the university in Fukuoka. “They also have the opportunity to go out to dinner and have some free time, so they get the whole university nightlife experience.”
Yoshiki, who hopes to become an English language teacher in Japan, was quick to point out the differences between classrooms here and classrooms there.
In Japan, he said, students sit in rows and work independently. Americans schools have moved away from that model in recent years, swapping desks for tables and embracing communication.
“That,” Yoshiki said, “is very different.”
As they wandered through the halls, the students waved into classrooms, flipped through children’s books and studied the art projects hanging on the walls.
Leonard said American schools tend to be more colorful, more visually stimulating than schools in Japan. When he showed one of the students a hornets’ nest, used as a prop in a kindergarten classroom, she gasped.
After exploring the school, the delegation broke into teams and gave the local students lessons in calligraphy and origami. Soon, the kids had Samurai helmets made of Japanese newspaper perched atop their heads.
A third team showed the students how to perform a traditional Japanese fisherman dance. During a break, a few of the kids started doing the floss. Yoshiki did it right back, causing an eruption of laughter.
“The people here are very kind, very friendly,” he said. “It’s exciting to talk to them.”
The delegation has a couple more days in La Crosse. A closing ceremony, at the Hall of Nations at UW-L, is set for 11 a.m. Friday.
The students said they will miss La Crosse, but that they’re looking forward to returning home, to, above all else, having Japanese food again.
“Rice,” Yakishi said. “I want rice.”
Tami Beran, who teaches fourth and fifth grade at North Woods, said her students would benefit from learning about Japanese culture firsthand, instead of in the pages of a book.
“It’s a great opportunity to be exposed to other cultures,” she said. “To learn about their traditions and their everyday life.”
Fourth-grader Ryan Thurman said he was particularly fond of the Japanese fisherman dance, of the way you mimic pulling in the net and throwing a fish over your shoulder.
He’d love to visit Japan, he said, if he gets the chance.
The Coulee Region is under a flood watch through Thursday night because of the rain and rapidly melting snow.
Most of the snowpack could be melted by Thursday, which means many smaller area rivers are expected to rise through the weekend.
The National Weather Service in La Crosse expects no flooding on the Mississippi River through this weekend.
But if you live along a tributary — especially south of Interstate 90 — be prepared.
In Vernon County, the Kickapoo River continued rising and is expected to be above flood stage in Ontario Thursday morning, then above flood stage by Thursday night in La Farge.
“Some roads may be underwater, especially Highway P near bridge 10,” Emergency management said. “Highway 131 between La Farge and Viola may also be affected.”
Minor flooding through the weekend is also expected along the Black, Root and Trempealeau rivers in our region.
The showers, thunderstorms and strong winds coming to Wisconsin Thursday are part of the "bomb cyclone" storm system hitting central U.S., with blizzards in the Plains and heavy rain to the east.
The storm system is moving north into Canada later on Thursday, being replaced in southern Wisconsin by colder and drier air as a cold front on the backside of the storm moves through.
A La Crosse man already facing multiple drug charges was charged Wednesday with having more drugs in jail weeks after the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office unveiled a body scanner that officials said would decrease the amount of contraband smuggled into the jail.
Nathan B. Kohls, 27, of La Crosse was charged Wednesday with possession of methamphetamine, according to criminal complaint. This charge comes about a week after his initial hearing when police found drugs, guns and thousands of dollars at his South Side home in late February.
According to reports, an anonymous inmate alerted jailers that Kohls had given him Suboxone strips, a prescription medication used to treat addiction, and methamphetamine. The anonymous inmate would not make a written statement but said Kohls gave another inmate methamphetamine, according to the complaint.
Jailers found a note from the other inmate sent to Kohls saying, “Are you still Good?” Jailers believe it was the inmate asking Kohls if he still had drugs, according to reports. The inmate denied sending the note when questioned, according to the criminal complaint.
Jailers searched Kohls’ cell and discovered a small bag containing a white crystallized substance believed to methamphetamine on Kohls’ bunk weighing 1.3 grams, according to reports.
The La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office said it doesn’t know how the drugs were brought into the jail. Kohls denied having any knowledge of the drugs and refused to be questioned, according to the criminal complaint.
Jailers questioned Kohls’ cellmate who said he didn’t know anything and didn’t want any problems, according to the complaint.
The sheriff’s office just invested in a body scanner that costs about $120,000 to deal with the drugs being smuggled into the jail.
Kohls’ “most recent booking preceded the use of the scanner and this emphasizes the need for it,” a representative of the sheriff’s department told the Tribune on Wednesday.
Investigators charged Kohls with the additional drug charge because the anonymous inmate and note from the inmate “corroborated Kohls was the inmate responsible,” according to the criminal complaint.