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La Crosse continues to eye $20 million STAR Center on North Side

La Crosse continues to eye $20 million STAR Center on North Side

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STAR Center exterior

The STAR Center's proposed location is at Lang Drive and St. Andrew Street.

The $20 million STAR Center project is still on the minds of city officials, and the rezoning of the land on the North Side is expected to pass next week.

The STAR Center, a plan first brought to the city’s attention last year, would be a multiuse workout and therapeutic facility that would serve those with limited abilities, such as those recently recovering from surgery, those with developmental disabilities and the aging community.

According to the people behind the proposal, it would be one of the only facilities of its kind in the Midwest and possibly the entire country.

“It’s an exciting project. It will bring tremendous amount of value to our community,” said Dr. Virginia Wintersteen, who is spearheading the project. “It will do a lot to develop the North Side.”

The roughly six acres of land, at St. Andrew Street and Lang Drive, is owned by Three Sixty Real Estate. The STAR Association has a bid in to purchase the land, but it is contingent on its rezoning.

The rezoning also gives the group the confidence to move forward in locking down more concrete plans and funding, city officials said.

STAR Center lobby

A depiction of the STAR Center lobby.

Funding has been a gray area for the building and its group, as it’s still unclear exactly where the $20 million for the project will come from.

“I’m very concerned,” said Council President Martin Gaul on Tuesday night. “I support the concept of the project ... at the same token, this council knows damn well that we are constantly dealing with property that is tax-exempt.”

But center’s organizers are confident funding will come through, saying they already have locked down about $7 million in federal tax credits, and are confident it would likely qualify for a new Opportunity Zone grant that Gov. Tony Evers is expected to sign next month. The dollar amount for that grant is unknown, and rest of the funding will come from private donations.

“We have many hands on the fire,” Wintersteen said. “All of the stars have to align.”

In the coming weeks, the city is asking for the STAR Center group to provide an economic impact study — because the facility would likely be tax exempt — that would outline the anticipated job growth and consumer activity the project will generate.

“I think our council deserves to understand the economic impact of the project, given the fact that we put $2.4 million in getting this thing ready for development,” City Planner Jason Gilman said. “It’s good for us to have the whole picture.”

A payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement could also become part of the deal to help cover the tax loss upfront. Similar agreements have been forged with institutions that use city services but don’t pay property tax.

This site, which used to be an industrial lot for Trane Co., is known as a “brownfield site,” meaning it used to contain hazardous or contaminant materials. The city cleaned the site up in recent years, including filling the lot and raising it out of the flood plain.

The rezoning passed through two bodies this week, and it will go to common council March 12.

If all goes to plan, the group hopes to have shovels in the ground sometime next year.

“It’s good for humankind,” said council member Scott Neumeister, who represents the district where the STAR Center would sit. “This is an opportunity for La Crosse, Wisconsin, to do something of greater good ... the economic impact on that is ten-fold, if not a hundred-fold.”

“He’s right,” Gilman said. “It isn’t all about economics.”


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