The La Crosse Center Board Monday chose the west concept for the $42 million renovation and expansion, but the board was clear that the concept is the first of many design choices to be made this year.
The choice puts the major part of the expansion — the 12,000-square-foot ballroom — on the west side of the building next to the existing arena and falling short of Riverside Park. The concept developed by architects ISG and Gensler goes before the La Crosse Finance and Personnel Committee at 6 p.m. Thursday, which will make its own recommendation after a public hearing.
The La Crosse Common Council will weigh in Jan. 10.
Board member Amanda Halderson-Jackson said the west concept does a better job of matching up with the La Crosse Center’s priorities.
“We wanted to bring in the river view, we wanted to take advantage of the west side of the structure, we wanted better connectivity, we wanted a bigger ballroom. I think this accomplishes more of those goals than the north,” Halderson-Jackson said.
The concept also puts the city-owned and -operated convention center in a better place to meet its users’ needs in the future, she said.
The concept calls for demolishing the existing north hall and replacing it with a new exhibit hall, as well as adding more meeting rooms, and an atrium and lobby with concessions and restrooms that would connect the South Hall and the new expansion.
The connectors are important, agreed board member Phil Addis. “It kind of brings it together,” he said.
“It seems to give us a much more flexible space right now, and if we do expand again in the future — which hopefully we’ll find a need to — it does seem to give us better options,” Addis said.
According to an ISG estimate based on the previous economic impact study, the west concept will have an additional annual economic impact of $8.7 million.
La Crosse Center Director Art Fahey said the west concept meets the needs of the staff, but the optional additional features, called bolt-ons by the design team, are going to be key moving forward.
“The connectors, the size of the North Hall, making sure the bathrooms are there — those are the kind of things we’re really zeroing in on,” Fahey said.
The west concept includes not only the connection on the Second Street side of the building, but also an option to add a connection from the new ballroom hallway to the existing ballroom.
“We’d like to see more out of either one of these concepts, but I do like that you can add the connectivity onto the west concept and essentially make it a circular building, which I think is important for a lot of reasons,” Halderson-Jackson said.
The possibility of making the exhibit hall on the north side of the building larger was important to several board members; however, that determination will be made as the project goes through the design phase.
“This is just a concept. It’s not a final design,” said board chair Brent Smith, stressing that it doesn’t lock anybody in on specific features.
The west concept was the one preferred according to the results of a survey released by the project team; however, only 56 people have responded so far on thenewlacrossecenter.com.
Council member Scott Neumeister emphasized the importance of getting respondents to share their thoughts
“Hopefully we get more input from the public, if we really let them know,” Neumeister said.
That will be especially important as the board prioritizes which bolt-ons it wants to include in the project to best serve all of its different users, including people going to concerts, trade shows and conventions or other special events.
“It seems to me they could be narrowing it down, which would be helpful,” Smith said.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat has also said that those bolt-ons, especially things like a larger atrium, provide a good opportunity for public-private partnerships.