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La Crosse council OKs plans to buy downtown building, reconstruct La Crosse Street

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Loan Max

The city has until Oct. 11 to decide whether to purchase the land at 621 N. Third St. The building there is home to a title loan business.

The La Crosse Common Council Thursday adopted resolutions to purchase land that currently houses a title loan business on North Third Street, approved bids for the La Crosse Center renovation and OK’d plans to widen La Crosse Street.

Downtown building

After delaying the decision for a week to review material on the economic and environmental impact of the purchase, the Common Council adopted the resolution to purchase the title loan building at 621 N. Third St. for $600,000.

The property, if redeveloped, could be worth $30,000 a year in tax revenue compared to the current $2,500 per year, said Jason Gilman, the city’s director of planning, development and assessment.

“We have the opportunity to do many things with the property,” Gilman said during the meeting. “Stabilization would be job No. 1 to make sure that the property doesn’t deteriorate. It could be marketed for redevelopment, it could be held and entered into lease agreements, it could be considered for transportation enhancement, and it could also be leveraged to area businesses and their growth.”

The building, which was built in 1920, began its life as a transformer station for the La Crosse electric streetcar system. Ownership of the building changed hands from private to public over the next few decades, but its purpose remained the same, as a hub for public transportation. In 1982, the building was sold to the owners of Mississippi Welders Supply, who currently rent it out to Loanmax Title Loans, according to the La Crosse Public Library Archives.

Council member Jessica Olson expressed a concern about its environmental history and the need to potentially clean up the site, during a Common Council meeting at the beginning of October, due to the existence of a large fuel tank on the property when the transit line was in operation.

“We have a letter from the DNR that acknowledges that there is groundwater contamination under the site,” Gilman said.

The city’s offer to purchase the property is contingent upon an environmental assessment. La Crosse will have 45 days after receipt of the assessment to notify the seller of any problems with the land. The seller will have an opportunity to fix environmental problems, and the city will be able to decide whether to continue with the purchase.

Olson raised another concern during Thursday’s meeting with the impact of accessibility to the property on the business.

“You have to do a hairpin turn to come down Second Street or you have to trespass across G.E.C.U.’s parking lot to reach it,” she said. “The only future for this little triangle of property is parking lot.”

She went on to say she can’t justify spending money for what really amounts to “the public good that would be removal of that billboard” that sits atop the building.

Council Member Doug Happel shared Olson’s concern regarding the cost to buy the property.

“I’m more careful taking risks with my money, and I’m more careful taking risks with other people’s money,” he said.

Council Member Andrea Richmond raised a concern with the additional funds needed to demolish the existing building, as well as other miscellaneous tasks. She estimated the total cost will be closer to $769,000.

“I definitely can’t support this. There are so many things that are needed in our community,” she said. “If we had a plan, if we had some ideas that were real concrete, maybe, but right now the price is too much.”

The resolution to purchase passed on an 8-5 vote.

Council members voting against the purchase were Andrea Richmond, Scott Neumeister, Jessica Olson, Martin Gaul and Doug Happel.

La Crosse Street

In in a unanimous vote, the Common Council gave Mayor Tim Kabat the authority to sign a state and municipal agreement to expand La Crosse Street from a two to three lanes, from Oakland Street to Losey Boulevard North.

The traffic signal at the intersection of La Crosse Street and East Avenue will need to be replaced, and rapid-flashing beacons will be installed at Oakland Street and at the crosswalk near Hillview Street.

The reconstruction aims to lower the number of rear-end collisions in that area. The cost of the project, which also includes a new bike lane, is estimated at $6.1 million, with $2.5 million from state or federal funding.

State and federal funding is attributed to a Wisconsin statute that requires funding assistance for construction and maintenance on state highways deemed necessary to preserve public safety. La Crosse Street is a part of Hwy. 16.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2022 but, in the meantime, the city will complete spot repairs on La Crosse Street, Kabat said.

La Crosse Center

Council members unanimously approved bids totaling more than $1.72 million for the La Crosse Center renovation Thursday. The bids were from Kish and Sons Electrical for electrical wiring for arena seating for $14,912, Fowler & Hammer for concrete and handrails in the arena for $262,000 and a bid from Irwin Seating Co. for $1.44 million for arena seating.

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