With a final design concept for the La Crosse Center renovation and expansion approved, La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat is moving forward with finalizing plans to get the $42 million project funded.
Kabat has requested La Crosse County and the city of Onalaska chip in for the project, asking for an annual contribution which adds up to $2 million for the county over 20 years and $500,000 for Onalaska over 10.
Because the expansion will have a regional economic impact of an estimated $44 million per year, compared to the convention center’s current $38 million per year impact, Kabat said he asked the region to chip in to fund it.
The mayor asked La Crosse County to consider contributing $100,000 per year for 20 years in a letter sent March 21.
Projections show the La Crosse Center expansion would bring in $60,000 to $70,000 more in sales tax annually, Kabat said, which is a tax collected by the county.
“We’re asking for a little bit on top of that just because of the regional benefit,” Kabat said.
County leaders have met with La Crosse Center folks about the potential for chipping in, but conversations stalled after the first concept was vetoed by Kabat last July.
La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson said the county was open to considering the request, but she’s heard from members who were taken aback by the amount and said there are some questions that need answers before they move forward.
“We want to be certain that the city is moving ahead with the project, and we want to be certain that we understand the financing plan and the impact a county contribution would have on that plan,” Johnson said.
Johnson asked whether that contribution would go to offset the portion of debt service paid by city of La Crosse property taxpayers, offset an increase to the room tax or be used in some other way, saying that’s an important question to answer before the county makes its decision.
She also asked what role the county would play in the La Crosse Center’s future and what the relationship between the city and county would be.
To formally consider the request, Johnson said, a supervisor will need to sponsor a resolution that will go before the Executive Committee before being discussed by the full board.
Kabat asked Onalaska for $50,000 per year for 10 years. He is slated to speak to the Onalaska Common Council at its May meeting. City Administrator Eric Rindfleisch was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
The regional funding is only a portion of the financing plan. The La Crosse Common Council in 2016 approved bonding for $35 million for the project and in May it will look at whether the borrowing will be all 20-year general obligation bonds or a mix of general obligation and 40-year lease revenue bonds.
The city of La Crosse is also looking into increasing the hotel room taxes and adding a ticket surcharge.
“I’m hoping that in May we’ll have answers to all of those questions,” Kabat said.
The project also has received a tourism grant from the state of Wisconsin, and the La Crosse Center Board has discussed selling naming rights to the facility, as well as specific rooms.