The expansion and renovation of the La Crosse Center will move forward — but not into Riverside Park.
So decided the La Crosse Center Board on Friday morning, half a day after the La Crosse Common Council sustained the mayor’s veto of the concept that would have extend the convention center toward the Mississippi River. “This project is going forward. B1, as we called it, is not — that’s done — but we’re moving forward,” said board chairman Brent Smith.
The board directed architects from ISG and Gensler to begin working on designs in the $42 million to $49 million range, including designs that would go north, toward the center’s north hall and the Pearl Street walkway, rather than toward the park, instructing them in a series of votes to bring back options in 60 days.
Board member Phillip Addis moved to direct the architects away from Riverside Park, saying, “Do not go into the park in your design, period.”
Addis’s motion was seconded by board member Amanda Halderson-Jackson, who pointed out the benefits of avoiding it, including eliminating the need for approval from the La Crosse Board of Park Commissioners, the costs of renovating underneath the overhang, as well as the need for the hydrological study.
“I think if we don’t go into the park, a lot of people will feel heard, and I think it will bring a better discussion forward about moving this along,” Halderson-Jackson said.
Council member Gary Padesky, who isn’t a member of the board, but attended the meeting, agreed, warning the board that it was unlikely the La Crosse Common Council would vote in favor of any encroachment into the park.
“We’re going to have to go toward the Pearl Street walkway and North Hall and that’s what your design would be,” Padesky said.
The board originally turned toward the park after neighboring business owners balked at a design that would infringe on the walkway connecting Pearl Street to Riverside Park. It also previously decided to keep the entire La Crosse Center operational throughout the project; however, Addis and others said if it needed to close North Hall that would be workable, if not ideal.
“It’s not our best hall anyhow, and it needs a lot of upgrading,” Addis said.
Addis also suggested the board direct the architects to work on options starting at $42 million, agreeing to go up to $49 million after council members Barb Janssen and Phillip Ostrem each said at the beginning of the meeting that they would be open to allocating more funding for a more fleshed out project.
“I think we should squeeze as much space out for the money. Frankly, if it goes a little bit over the $42 million limit, I’m not going to be opposed to that,” Ostrem said.
As the design teams tries to meet its deadline and design to a budget, it’s important that they know what compromises they can make and what the budget will be, said Will Kratt of ISG.
“The design that was put forward, the board and the design team and other stakeholders felt that everything that was in that was needed. There was no fluff. There were no extras in there,” Kratt said. “To (Smith’s) point, we need to hear from the mayor, from the council, other stakeholders, what we can now live without.”
There’s a big difference between designing to $42 million and $44 million, he said.
“If there are any other lines in the sand, that needs to get fleshed out,” Kratt said.
The board also touched on its other priorities as the project advances, with former board member, ex-council member Fran Formanek, saying marketing and sharing information with the public would be key.
“It is very, very important that we continually move forward and get this thing to the point where we can get some groundbreaking done as soon as possible,” Formanek said.
He referenced the first conceptual rendering, which included a white box intended to give a general idea of where the B1 concept would be located.
“Unfortunately, people that I talked to didn’t get the information that this was just a conceptual kind of thing, that this isn’t what it was going to look like,” Formanek said.
Council member Janssen said the impassioned opposition provided the La Crosse Center Board and council with an opportunity.
“I think we need to harness that and bring those people in, maybe to feel like they are part of the project,” Janssen said.
Smith agreed, saying, “We continue to need the input, obviously, of the mayor, our city council, the public — some of those who were opposed to B1 are a part of our community and the discussion — downtown business community, who showed a lot of interest in this all the way through.”