Adrian Lipscombe’s first trip to La Crosse was in January, about a week after a cold snap sent temperatures plummeting below zero. When her plane touched down, the Texas native was less than thrilled to see La Crosse’s snow-covered landscape.
“I was like, ‘Nope,’ and closed the window and slid down in my seat,” she joked.
A lot has changed since then for Lipscombe, who moved to the Coulee Region Sept. 3. She has jumped into plans to renovate the former Ground Up coffee shop into a farm-to-table restaurant and rebrand Old Towne North into Uptowne with her planning firm Urbanlocity and the North La Crosse Business Association.
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While her decision to move north took about two months, her journey toward La Crosse really started two years ago. In 2014, she met La Crosse SOUP co-founder and former county board supervisor Andrew Londre and became friends. After they met a second time and got to talking, Londre started trying to recruit her as a La Crosse resident, eventually convincing her to come to La Crosse SOUP’s summit early last year as a guest speaker.
“After she came to La Crosse for the SOUP Summit, she decided that even though it was in January and it was really darn cold, she actually liked it here,” Londre said. “Once we can get people here, La Crosse speaks for itself.”
It wasn’t too much longer until Lipscombe asked Londre to join her as a partner in Urbanlocity, and Londre stepped up his recruitment efforts as Lipscombe finished her doctorate program at the University of Texas. While thinking about her next adventure, Lipscombe came for a visit to see what she thought about La Crosse and decided the quality of life was exactly what she was looking for.
She brought her husband, Christopher Johnson, and 10-year-old son, Aidan, to check it out this summer. About two months later, the pregnant Lipscombe and Adrian have found a place to rent in Onalaska while Johnson finishes up the sale of their home in Austin.
“I’m the type of person who leaps and my husband is my ground,” Lipscombe said.
She brought her twin passions of cooking and planning with her.
Lipscombe’s passion for planning began while working on her master’s thesis project in 2010, studying the devastating effects of Hurricane Ike on Galveston, Texas, while planning a redesign of a former brewery building as an emergency shelter. As she walked the streets, interacting with the people who lived there and studying how the storm turned their lives upside down, she saw the way urban planning could positively impact the island.
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“My project was very unique because now I was no longer just designing a building, I was looking at community engagement and how this building can impact a community and make change,” Lipscombe said. “Creating a community could change the world, literally.”
She took every opportunity to dive into community aspects, learning that understanding the people’s attitude toward transportation, land use and their community is necessary in any sort of widespread planning design. She’s taken classes in sociology, social work, minority studies to understand the different cultures to find how to make community designs work for different demographics.
“Everybody is different, the demographics are different, whether it’s a different language or someone thinking there is a safety problem or a distance problem,” Lipscombe said.
While working on her degrees, Lipscombe interned for the city of San Antonio before getting a job in the city of Austin’s planning department, and became a member of the American Institute of Architecture Associates, Women in Transportation Seminars and the American Planning Association.
She has a talent for urban planning programs, earning her former city national recognition Sept. 16 for its alternative transportation efforts. A program she launched as Austin’s bicycle coordinator netted a Ladders of Opportunity award from the U.S. Transportation Department.
“I’m just really excited about how good it is. You just hope this project can be recreated for other communities and taken elsewhere,” she said.
Her work also got her named to the 2014 Next City Vanguard Class, bringing her to the Chattanooga, Tenn., conference where she met Londre and they became friends.
Lipscombe is a mighty fine baker, too, with Londre not hesitating to praise her skills.
“I will validate every claim of her amazing food ever made,” Londre said, adding that her talents served as an “ever present ego-check.”
She started baking on a bet and built it into a business called Knotty Nice Bakery that specialized in garlic knots. She operated it for three years before putting it on the backburner to work on her dissertation, but plans to put those skills back to work as soon as she finishes work on 1217 Caledonia St., cooking wholesome food to lure in friends, family and the community.
Londre believes Lipscombe will have a lot to add to the good things already being done by the La Crosse Planning Department and community partners throughout the Coulee Region.
“There are a lot of immensely talented people here … but she’s got this amazing story and amazing breadth and depth of experiences,” Londre said.
“I can’t wait to see what she does, what she brings to this community,” he added. “La Crosse means the world to me and I think she sees the opportunity that’s here.”