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Gundersen campus aerial

With more than 3,000 workers, Gundersen Health System is La Crosse County's biggest employer.

The city of La Crosse approved a compromise with Gundersen Health System on Thursday that would allow the demolition of nine homes for parking, but also require the hospital to replace the parking lot with improved development by 2021.

The La Crosse Common Council voted 12 to 3 with one absent to approve a conditional use permit, which would allow Gundersen to build a surface parking lot between Denton and Tyler, and Eighth and Ninth streets, provided its agrees to develop a five-year redevelopment plan and traffic management assessment, as well as provide a payment in lieu of taxes to the city.

Gundersen Health System executive director of external affairs Michael Richards said the hospital will need the 175 stalls of patient parking to replace those lost to hotel development on South Avenue and the lot that could be lost to medical resident housing during the second phase of that development, a total of 215 stalls.

“This replacement parking lot is not a long-term solution, and we continue to work with the city of La Crosse to find alternative solutions, such as a parking ramp,” Richards said.

The hospital has 3,631 parking stalls for 4,700 employees and 4,000 patient visits per day. The proposed lot will be entirely on Gundersen-owned property, within the Gundersen campus, and Gundersen needs city approval to purchase property outside that campus, according to a development agreement.

Andrew Londre, who lives nearby and co-chairs the Powell-Poage-Hamilton Neighborhood Association, opposed the project, which he said was a poor use of urban space and inconsistent with the Powell-Poage-Hamilton/Gundersen Health System Joint Neighborhood and Campus Plan.

“If you look, it very clearly recommended the block in question, that the east side of it be rezoned for a mixed-use type of facility and the other side be rezoned for new low-density housing,” Londre said.

Londre added that the medical resident housing project is not final and is proposed for an area zoned for mixed commercial use. He suggested that project be moved to the area.

Council member Martin Gaul said the compromise addresses Gundersen’s immediate needs, but also adds a sunset clause to ease the worries of Gundersen’s neighbors.

“I think Gundersen — whether you agree with them or not — has demonstrated that they have an immediate need for temporary parking,” Gaul said. “I believe that the neighborhood association is rightfully fearful of these houses being torn down and this block becoming surface parking.”

Gaul believes it was appropriate and important to have official assurances for the neighbors that their neighborhood will be maintained.

“Everyone can agree that surface parking is the worst possible use for it and nobody should believe for a second that surface parking is going to be the continued use for this property,” he said.

Gundersen will continue to look for other options, and is considering a parking ramp on the east side of South Avenue, Richards said. The health system is willing to commit to creating a redevelopment plan for the new lot by 2021.

“For a five year period of time, I think it’s a good opportunity for us to have a conversation,” Richards said.

Gundersen has been working to reduce employee parking, and finding and encouraging the use of alternatives. The health system invests in public transit, offers employee discounts to use the city’s Municipal Transit Utility and supports a walk-to-work program which covers the first year of property taxes for employees moving into the Powell-Poage-Hamilton Neighborhood.

“It’s good for everybody’s health and it’s good for, obviously, the parking congestion,” Richards said.

Council members Doug Happel, David Krump and Elaine Anderson voted against the project, saying they were unable to vote in favor of parking lots replacing housing, especially with the opposition within the neighborhood.

“At some point, if we just keep taking things away, it doesn’t stop, and we’ll have one great big parking lot and that just really isn’t the answer,” Happel said.

Londre was pleased to see the compromise put forth by Gaul put a requirement in to make the lot temporary, but nervous about the two plans to be developed with the city, neighborhood association and health system.

“There really was no definition of what those two plans should look like and what teeth they’re going to have,” Londre said.

However, he added that he “would be much more nervous about these conditions if it were anyone else.”

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City government reporter

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.

(8) comments

GrandpaS

I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the convenience of having an almost on-site hotel for families of patients. I'm not so sure about spending the cost of knocking all those houses over, paving a parking lot for 5 years, and then digging it all up again to develop ?????? Does St. Mary's Hospital (Mayo's hospital in Rochester) have an on-campus hotel? Will all the new hotels being built downtown not help the room shortage? It will be interesting to see how this works out.

57

B and S parking now parking for ever

LaXman

I assume after the 5 years some nicer housing of some sort or mixed use properties will go in. No offense to the renters or anyone living there, but newer and nicer properties will probably be an improvement. It is hard to deal with renters finding new places but a "normal" landlord can basically kick you out whenever - at least G-L tries to help them.

tower

Actually you said the rate is affordable. I think $140 is normally a going rate but isn't affordable to people also facing medical expenses. You said displacing people, not me. Now you want to split hairs. GL could of accomplished the same thing without doing this. Good for the city hotel tax, but what does that have to do with anything?

tower

ytyk, from the first article on this, the hotel is being run by an outage co. It isn't cheap at $140 a night and is open to all. I bet with 2000 little worker bees pushing the occupancy it won't be vacant much. Your last line is a hoot. They are displacing families unless they are going to live in cars parked there, which may happen.

you think you know

$140 per night at anything other than a one-off motel isn't unusual these days. I understand it's open to all as well, as I did say that same thing below. And I'm not sure what the vacancy potential has to do with anything. It's a good thing the rooms will be filled, hotel tax money coming in. You libs love extra tax money.

Lastly, I never said they aren't displacing people. I said they're not taking advantage of them like is done through eminent domain. These people are renters, not owners. As a tenant, they need to be aware that at the end of their lease the owner can not renew. The owner can also work with a tenant to buy out their lease or find them other options. Either way, so far the residents of these homes aren't the people complaining. It's other neighbors, and feel-gooders like yourself who want to halt progress in this town apparently.

Oney Judge

I think it's disgusting. money grubbing hospital and the city. I'll never use Gunderson ever again.

you think you know

I'm guessing your insurance policy is through Mayo? If so, that makes your threat incredibly unsubstantial.

I fail to see the money grab here, by either parties. The hospital is building that hotel for it's patients. Yes there will likely be non-patient visitors, but they certainly are not the key demographic. There is a need for family members to have nearby and affordable temporary housing when their loved ones are in the hospital. Where would you suggest they stay during state track, Oktoberfest, Riverfest, and many other times of the year when Lacrosse hotels are completely booked?

Why is the hotel my topic, because the hotel is being built on the current parking lot, thus leading to the need for new parking options. In addition, the hospital already owns the homes on that block. It is not as if they are offering pennies on the dollar using eminent domain and kicking people out of their homes.

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