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FILE -- La Crosse Center

The proposed $45 million renovation and expansion to the La Crosse Center would be a boon to the entire region, La Crosse Center board chairman Brent Smith and director Art Fahey said Monday.

“It just isn’t the city of La Crosse,” Smith said. “This is really a regional impact that the La Crosse Center has.”

The La Crosse Center Board is asking the city to contribute $35 million for the project, which would add a 40,000-square-foot raised ballroom enclosed in glass on the back of the building and renovate the lobby and hallways to make it more welcoming and visitor-friendly in a trio of resolutions to go before the La Crosse Common Council June 9.

While Fahey is still finalizing the numbers, he estimated Monday the economic impact of the renovation to be between $16 million to $48 million per year based om both day-attendees and people who stay overnight in the area to visit the La Crosse Center for events. The city-owned convention center hosts more than 200 events a year.

“It’s an amazing diversity of events and people who use the center, and I think the community has to realize how many things we do,” Smith said.

Fahey added that while the city residents primarily see the conventions and concerts, the convention center plays host to graduations, weddings and community events.

“It’s not just about conventions, it’s not just about concerts, it’s about our community,” Fahey said. “Being a place where people can go, be proud of and use the facility.”

The La Crosse Center is one of the few city-run convention centers in the area to make its home city money. Its ledger has been positive since its previous $14 million expansion in 2000.

However, Fahey is hearing from event-runners and other users about the state of the facility, which has been called dated, sterile and difficult to navigate.

“We have to redo a lot of things within the building for upkeep. Our clients have told us that and we think it’s true,” Smith said.

The traffic flow around the building will be improved, as well as the lobby, but the board hopes to bring a wow-factor to really compete in the national market for events.

Although the designs are not yet final, the proposal would take full advantage of what makes La Crosse unique: its river views.

“People who have that view rave about it … It’s something that brings people to our building,” Smith said.

The board decided on an additional ballroom because of the success of the one built in 2000, which brings in a variety of events compared to the concrete floors and walls of other areas of the center.

“It opens us up to a very different clientele,” Fahey said.

Fahey believes the addition will make the best use of the venue they have, allowing the La Crosse Center to host more small events at the same time, with hallways leading to each area that would keep them separated.

The project calls for the city to bond for $35 million, which would be paid back using hotel room tax dollars, ticket surcharges and other city funds. The La Crosse Center board also plans to ask the Wisconsin Building Commission for $10 million in funding for the project. The commission recently contributed to a performing-arts project in Eau Claire.

Smith and Fahey said the timing was right for an expansion, in part due to the addition of 500 hotel rooms downtown through the four new hotel developments, but mostly because the convention center is losing its competitive edge against other facilities and cities that have made more recent improvements.

“For us to be able to compete against the Green Bays, the Stevens Points, the Wisconsin Dells, we need to do this now,” Smith said.

If approved, the project could be completed as soon as 2018.

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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.

(12) comments

Redwall

Wouldnt it be bigger and better to spend $100 million or more? Come on, think big.

$48 million benefit for 200 events is almost $250,000 each, for every dog show, gun show, Elvis explosion, wedding and high school basketball tourney. The numbers dont seem to make sense.

oldhomey

Be careful, Redwall, of being so smug about whose numbers make no sense.

DMoney

Oldhomey, for a progressive, you sure seem to be narrow minded.

straight scoop

Fahey wants 45 million in tax dollars to make "the hallways more welcoming." How about Fahey working on some decent entertainment instead like we used to get: JOhnny Cash, Bob Hope, Eddy Arnold Wayne Newton,--the big names for adults used to be booked in La Crosse. Fahey's "welcoming hallways" won't help.

Samms

"Smith and Fahey said the timing was right for an expansion, in part due to the addition of 500 hotel rooms downtown through the four new hotel developments". Right.....and they want us to believe that it was just coincidental that the four motels went up at the same time.....so it would be a good time to expand?? If you believe that, I have some good ocean front property for sale at bargain basement prices..

timf

This is good news and much needed from the perspective of a trade show or convention organizer. This is a convenient facility in a nice town but leaves much to be desired in many areas. For example, the skywalk from the Radisson is quite confusing and empties into the arena. For an event in the convention hall, this would be useless if a concert or other event is held in the arena. The trade show floor also needs contiguous meeting space.

DMoney

Good news but it would be smarter to mostly rebuild. Completely redo the arena portion. Expand to seating for up to 10 thousand. Make it look not like a prison.

oldhomey

And you are anticipating upwards of 10,000 attendees for what events and how many of those events annually, DMoney? I think this proposal makes a lot of sense, but what you are suggesting is tearing down the whole structure and starting over at an immense expense for events that at least for now seem highly unlikely or extremely rare occasions, at best. I am no expert or very knowledgeable on this topic, however, so if you can prove your point, please do, and I will respect it if it seems reasonable and viable.

superman

DMoney - Completely agree. They should rebuilt!

oldhomey

Sorry, DMoney, I agree with the proposal put forward in the story, not with building the auditorium out to accommodate 10,000 plus. Make your case, or are you just being cynical, krapping on any idea of civic improvement on the theory that there is no money for it, only for tax cuts?

DMoney

Build it and they will come. Make it a destination, embrace the local beauty and culture, and pretty soon an Elton John concert becomes a weekend event worth traveling 500 miles for rather than just a night in an overcrowded lame venue. Also might attract arena sports teams and monster truck/wrestling events that we're currently too small for. Besides, costs don't come from building seats, that's just a matter of concrete and seats themselves.

DMoney

You don't need to sell every seat for every event. Selling out a handful of times at that capacity would easily cover the overhead. With stadiums you never want seating capacity to limit your potential on paid attendance. Better to have empty seats most the time than not enough seats some of the time.

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