La Crosse Center view from river

This architect's rendering shows an approximation of what the La Crosse Center expansion and renovation will look like from across the Mississippi River at Pettibone Park. The materials for the renovation haven't been chosen yet, so the appearance could change during the design phase.

Mayor Tim Kabat Monday vetoed the concept for the $49.2 million La Crosse Center expansion, calling it a “big, flat, plain box” that does not honor the city’s history.

Mayor Tim Kabat


The La Crosse Common Council voted 7-4 last week to approve the concept that extends into Riverside Park and an additional $7.2 million in funding for the project, which would cover about half an acre of the park’s 20 total acres, hanging 27 feet in the air above Front Street. With the mayor’s veto, the question will go back to the council July 12, where those in favor will need a super-majority of nine votes to move forward.

The mayor objected to the impact on the park and the additional spending.

“I don’t take the idea of eliminating park space very lightly. I don’t think B1 is the absolutely only option. I think those other studies show there is space to expand,” Kabat said in an interview.

He was especially opposed to encroaching on Riverside Park, which he called “the region’s most loved park.” Kabat believes the city should honor John Nolen’s 1911 park plan.

In his message to the La Crosse Common Council informing members of his veto, he criticized the concept, saying “the current design lacks inspiration and detracts from the aesthetics at one of the most beautiful and historic sites anywhere on the Mississippi River.”

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The mayor also criticized what he deemed the “common council’s lack of fiscal discipline” in his letter to the council.

“We’ve come too far as an organization with strong financial management. This request for more money will create negative circumstances for city operations. Additional borrowing will negatively impact street repairs and future fire stations,” he wrote.

The city previously approved $35 million in borrowing for the project and another $7 million will be covered by the combination of a $5 million Wisconsin state grant, room taxes and reserve funds.

He called the legislation “fatally flawed” in that it didn’t include enough details about the cost of working in the park, including shifting an electrical transmission line, addressing floodplain issues and addressing the space that would be left underneath the overhang.

“I believe that there’s an ability to put together some general cost estimates for what that’s going to include,” Kabat said.

He added that he would rather see a design that stays out of the park to avoid those costs entirely.

“The concept that avoids the park avoids the need to ask those questions, because we won’t need to relocate the transmission line or deal with the floodway,” he said.

Jessica Olson mug


Council member Jessica Olson, who voted in favor of the project, said Monday she was disappointed in the mayor’s veto.

“I hope that in the ensuing months that the La Crosse Center Board can reach out to the council members and convey the information they are looking for as they reach their decision,” Olson said.

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While she hadn’t yet fully reviewed the mayor’s letter, she did say, “I have very, very grave concerns about the viability of the alternatives.”

Brent Smith


La Crosse Center Board chair Brent Smith understood where the mayor and others are coming from when they object to using park land, Smith said, but he disagreed, saying he believes having easy access to and from the center in the park would benefit both the the center and the park.

Smith said he could see critics’ point when it came to the initial drawing, in which a white box marked the location of the expansion.

“That was never meant to be the final version, and I think the most recent attempts to show what it might to look like I would not put in the same category,” Smith said.

Even the latest drawings were meant to show an option, not a final product, he added.

“It’s going to look very, very different than anything we’ve seen,” Smith said.

Smith agreed with the mayor that the space at Second and Pearl streets should be put to better use, saying the concept included lobby space on that side for that purpose.

“The first impression when someone comes in or drives by, I think we wanted to improve that as well,” he said.

Should the veto be upheld, the board will go back to the architects and try to find another concept that fits with the La Crosse Center’s needs and space constraints.

“We don’t see an alternative right now — not to say there couldn’t be,” Smith said.

The mayor emphasized that his criticism of the proposal shouldn’t be misconstrued as a lack of support for expanding the city’s convention center.

“I really believe that it’s critical to downtown and the larger region to boosting tourism and really taking advantage of what’s going on in our community. I just don’t think there’s need to expand into the park,” Kabat said.

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Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.



Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering crime and courts for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218 or jvian@lacrossetribune.com.

(18) comments

Grand Dad's Bluff

Thank you Mayor!!!!!!!!!


the design is borderline hideous..strile. no charm


A “big, flat, plain box.” Has he seen the rest of the LaCrosse Center?


I love the way that Brent Smith uses double speak. He's trying to placate the Mayor, while at the same time, criticize him.

Buena Vista

Thank you, Mayor Kabat!

LaCrosse Lady


It’s the same attitude of politicians and businessmen that made people move to Onalaska - that wanted that horrible structure.

Make La Crosse more family friendly. Families and neighborhoods first.

The city tax base is property tax. Over industrialized means bad places to live.

You need a balance between jobs and living space and La Crosse’s living space has been neglected for the last 50 years. Now people work here and live someplace else.


Exactly. Why spend the tax dollars of young families and the elderly on an empty square cornered box on top of a round cornered box? Look at all the trouble the city had spending a fraction of this cost on the Memorial pool-something the kids and families in the city really need. Doesn't the La Crosse center lose money every year? Will spending millions mean it will lose less?


Thank you Mayor Kabat for this initial step in the right direction. It's only too bad you didn't work harder with people and build a new arena on the Mobile oil site where it could have been a much more useful building and site. That site could have been the nicest entertainment area in the state of Wisconsin. It could have been the arena, Oktoberfest grounds, additional parking, farmers market and more. And to the people who say that site is too far from the hotels I say baloney. Two or three blocks is close enough in any city and there are numerous ways of transportation that could have been used to get there. You also should have tried harder to get more funding through donations in order to alleviate more of the burden on the tax payers. There have been arena's built with relatively little cost to the tax payer's such as the Kohl Center in Madison and the new Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco. The development at this site still would have prompted additional building in other downtown areas I believe. But, apparently it's too late for that now and I still believe that the tax payers are getting the shaft and I'm guessing that will come to pass in ten years when this "Facelift" is no longer profitable enough. For God's sake, sell the naming rights to help offset the maintenance costs.


I think you're delusional if you think anyone would pay more than a couple hundred bucks for naming rights... This ain't the Golden State.


Well it happened in Madison and other areas as well. The point I'm making is that naming rights money would be used solely for the maintenance and upkeep of the facility. That IS something that would help the tax payers in a situation where their going to do it anyway. Like this one... My feeling is that the people who are "delusional" are the ones who think this endeavor is going to be making money after ten years. We should do everything we can to ease the impact this will have on the tax payers. The tax money comes from everyone including the people who will never use this facility. The Golden State isn't the only place that has people with money and Don Weber isn't the only one in Lacrosse who has it either. People should have done better and the road to downtown Lacrosse is paved with good intention. (and sometimes I believe with not much else).


I agree with the below. How does the El Prez figure this out? This is not that hard of math. It is about foot traffic. If you have enough events, regardless of what they are...you come to the “Pepsi center”. Pepsi is pretty smart and uses the same demo info to gauge the cost for sponsorship. And it is more than a “couple hundred”.

union conservative

We need people to run against these council members who will be remembered after they overrides the mayor’s veto. Then people need to vote! Of course the damage will already be done.


Two council members weren't present for the Center vote. If they should next be present and vote yea, the mayor's veto will be overridden. One of those two is my spendthrift alderman. I can guess how this will go.


Thank you Mr. Mayor.

Buggs Raplin

Wonderful!!! Thank you Mr. Mayor.


I approve of the Mayor's action.


Wow! Thanks Mayor Kabat. the only common sense opinion from the entire bunch hoping to get their names on a brass plaque in the lobby of the new (UGLY) addition. Personally, I think we should build up to the Radisson or buy it out and leave the only precious strip of land along the river that is still somewhat enjoyable. And, regarding Riverside Park - I resent that the park is constantly being overused by noisy, boisterous, events that leave everything in a shambles for weeks on end. I used to walk there almost everyday and now it is almost impossible with weeks of prep, actual event, then tear down and kinda restore to a semblance of enjoyable park. It is no longer pretty - they took down too many trees with no intention of replacing them. Simply put - it is OVERUSED and literally not a nice place any longer. So stop building this stupid box over our park and focus on restoring our Riverside Park - FIRST!!

LaCrosse Lady

That thing is horrible for the people that live in La Crosse.

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