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Closing of La Crosse Kmart provides redevelopment opportunity

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Aerial Kmart

The State Road Kmart location is generating interest among developers.

The State Road Kmart store will close its doors for good Sunday, ending 52 years of bargains for shoppers but opening the possibility of redevelopment at one of La Crosse’s busiest intersections.

“It’s a great site,” said real estate developer Warren Loveland, whose father presided over the Kmart grand opening when he was mayor. “In the absolute middle of the city on two high-traffic roads, close to schools and — I mean it’s a terrific site.”

Marvin Wanders, owner of 360 Real Estate Solutions and developer behind such projects as Three Rivers Plaza, said residential growth along Hwy. 33 will make the land all the more valuable.

“All you have to do is follow Festival,” Wanders said. “They went there for very legitimate reason. I think you could do a really cool mixed-use product there.”

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1965 Kmart opening

Dozens of people await the opening of Kmart at State Road and Losey Boulevard on Sept. 1, 1965. The store is slated to close Sunday. La Crosse Tribune file photo courtesy La Crosse Public Library Archives.

The 7.9-acre site, which includes the 88,400-square-foot building as well as a Hardee’s restaurant that reopened in 2014 after a 10-year hiatus, have an assessed value of $4.4 million, according to county records.

The land is owned by J&W Management Corp., which is entertaining purchase offers.

“We have had considerable interest,” said Glenn Howarth, general counsel for the New York-based company.

Howath said he expects to make a decision “in the next few weeks.”

While a new owner would be free to reuse the current building, city officials have hopes for something bigger.

Andrea Schnick, La Crosse’s economic development planner, said city assistance would be contingent on multistory, mixed-use development.

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State and Losey aerial

This aerial photo from the 1950s shows the intersection of State Road and Losey Boulevard looking north. The northeast corner, occupied by a trailer court and motel called Krause's Kabin Kourt, became the site of Kmart in 1965. The store is slated to close on Sunday, Sept. 2. Photo from Murphy Library at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“If the city were to be involved, we would definitely be in favor of vertical use,” she said. “The one way we can increase tax base and residency is by building up.”

Vertical, high-density development is a priority for all communities, but especially those like La Crosse, which have limited opportunities to expand, said James Hill, executive director of the La Crosse Area Development Corp.

Loveland agrees the site’s proximity to high-traffic arteries, Festival Foods and a residential neighborhood make it prime for mixed-use redevelopment.

“There’s absolutely no question that the city has limited amounts of land and has to maximize the potential from those limited amounts of land,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the city.”

On average, nearly 25,000 vehicles a day pass by the site on Losey and more than 14,000 on State Road, according to traffic counts from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

While the DOT doesn’t provide intersection counts, it is the second or third busiest intersection in the region behind Hwys. 16 and 157, said Jackie Eastwood, transportation planner with the La Crosse Area Planning Committee.

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Krause’s Kabin Kourt

This undated postcard view from the 1940s shows Krause’s Kabin Kourt (left) and a combination grocery store and gas station located on the northeast corner of Losey Boulevard and State Road. At one time the Kabin Kourt, owned and operated by Charles and Emma Krause from circa 1938 to 1961, consisted of 18 cabins, including “seven deluxe cabins having hot and cold running water, showers, toilets and outlets for shavers.” A Kmart store was built on the site in 1965. The discount store closed its doors in September 2017.

The Kmart store was built after a months-long rezoning battle on the site of a former trailer park and motel called Krause Kabin Kourt. Hill, whose first job was bagging groceries at the adjacent Kmart grocery store, said the development sprang from efforts to improve entrances to the city.

Throngs of customers lined up Sept. 1, 1965 to check out the new discount store, which featured a jewelry, automotive, gardening and appliance departments as well as a snack bar with 68 seats.

“It was a huge development back in the early 60s,” Hill said.

A second La Crosse Kmart opened in 1982 near Valley View Mall but closed in 1995.

The State Road location survived a wave of store closures when the parent company went through bankruptcy in 2002 and another in 2011. It also survived a hit by a 2011 tornado that tore a hole in the roof and forced it to close for several days.

Parent company Sears Holdings announced in June that it was among 72 stores slated to close, in addition to 180 store closings announced earlier this year.

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1965: Kmart

La Crosse opened its first Kmart store in 1965 at the corner of Losey Boulevard and State Road. It was the discount retailers 98th store. The La Crosse Tribune reported that the store opened with 10 checkouts, an automotive service center and a snack bar. The South Side store closed in  September 2017. A second Kmart store opened in 1982 on Hwy. 16 near Valley View Mall, but it closed in 1995.

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Reporter

Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things.

(17) comments

YellowBee

Oh no not more roundabouts.....they suck!! It has been proven many times that they don't work as well as people think they do. Please no more roundabouts!!!!!!!!!!!

YellowBee

I am going to share a couple of rumors I have heard.. Trader Joe's or Golden Corral. Remind you these are just rumors....but I would vote for Golden Corral. There really isn't a decent place in that area to eat every since Country Kitchen was forced out.

capedcrusader

Most "Big Box" stores have been downsizing for some time now. Amazon (and EBAY) has been killing them off slowly for years with their distribution centers and choices, delivery, etc... Most, including Target were years behind in getting with the program. (Target has or is closing most of their Canadian stores as it turned out to be a failed experiment). Some of them closed on Sundays. Some closed early at night. And at Amazon and EBAY you could order at any time seven days a week. They even had speedy delivery and now are even offering same day delivery in some markets. As I said in an earlier post, Festival better hope they can keep HyVee out of this market because it would force them and Kwik Trip to be more competitive with their pricing. And if you're wondering why Kwik Trip - HyVee is now building convenience stores that are bigger and offer more than Kwik Trip. I'm betting Festival is one of the "interested parties" in trying to acquire the K Mart property. They could then have their own stand alone store with more parking. The building their in could be leased for something else. I think in the end though a mixed use area with several stores would benefit the area much more. From time to time, even with a good occupancy rate, Shelby mall has store fronts available. IMHO, several "new stores" would be better for the area.

1spider

maybe target or some kind of department store. for those of us that live in the area & don't drive.

Frangel45

We definitely need a roundabout at that location - it would move traffic through that area so much better. Please make sure that is in the plans before anything else. It makes more sense than in the residential areas where they are being used just to slow down the traffic. The one on Cass St. is great - though it is time people quit stopping!!!

allcav

Okay, Warren, BACK! I know this is tempting, but someone at the City doesn't like you. You wanted to turn the Ross of La Crosse building into affordable housing, and you met roadblocks from the City. Then, guess who built a chic hotel here. Then you wanted to turn the Bakalars building into affordable housing, and you again met roadblocks from the City. Then, guess what's there now. Face it, some at the City just don't like you. Plus, you're seventy. Relax.

Buena Vista

...shut up. you're speculating.

Buena Vista

Would love to see a Cub Foods return to the area at this site.

capedcrusader

I would rather see HyVee. Of course that would be good news for shoppers and bad news for Festival Foods and Kwik Trip.

Berks

Watch this play out: 1/3rd of the property for a giant roudabout, 1/3 for an LGBT park, and 1/3 for culturally diverse low-income housing.

Buena Vista

...I hope so.

LesTrafik

Fair enough. There are lesser invasive ways in which vast improvements could be made to existing signalized intersections than roundabouts that area planners could be pursuing but have not; the reason amounts to lack of expertise and creativity in those designs, and lack of budget among other things. Roundabouts are an 'easy' go-to for planners-- cookie cutter designs; but, while they function well under the 'right' conditions, their issues are never going away where they've not been properly vetted (they almost never are). Either way, this property is worth less without improved access which will be by-product of intersection improvement.

Good Citizen

Oh geez. Here come the social-engineers that love to play make believe with other people's earnings.

Just let the market work it's magic. That's kinda hard to fathom in the outrageously regulated and taxed city of La Crosse. But the discipline of the market will make this area exactly what it should be.

ElPresidente

An intersection redesign better be in the plans first.

LesTrafik

Ditto. That includes modifying the intersection at Green Bay/Losey which will likely include removal of its traffic signal and installation of a pedestrian signal mid-block. The city & DOT need to move aggressively.

shameless

Remove a signal light next to the high school and Festival? Are you nuts? The parking lots would be a standstill.

capedcrusader

Can you elaborate a little more on that please? Not following you...

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