The La Crosse Center would add a second ballroom on its northwest corner, with a bridge over Front Street and steps into Riverside Park, in the latest version of potential renovation plans for the city’s main convention and events facility downtown.
Draft plans presented Tuesday to the La Crosse Center Board were very preliminary, mostly showing what might be possible than locking into any layout, said David Greusel of Convergence Design.
“We’ve got a ways to go on this,” center Director Art Fahey said, “but this is certainly a step in the right direction.”
Greusel offered two layouts for the existing building, the second more ambitious than the first. The set of steps into Riverside Park in the first option, for example, becomes a “grand staircase” connecting to a 14,000-square-foot ballroom that would be twice the size of the center’s current ballroom. The adjacent Zielke Suite would become a service area.
But even the more modest plan would address some of the common shortcomings cited about the facility and make it more competitive with other Wisconsin cities for conventions, meetings and other business, Greusel said.
It would create a more easily identified main entrance and lobby, just across from Pearl Street, and add a walkway around the perimeter so the entire building can be accessed from inside, rather than having to use different doors.
The ceiling of the North Hall could be raised and telescoping seating added to make a space that can be easily converted into a 1,200-to-1,500-seat “flexible theater” for larger productions, yet still available as floor space for conventions and other events, Greusel said.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse officials have said they might be interested in a sharing arrangement on a performing arts venue, Fahey added. Such a space also is not expected to compete with Viterbo University or the nearby Weber Center for Performing Arts.
The new ballroom would have curving glass over Front Street and a balcony walkway on the entire upper west side of the building to take advantage of the Mississippi River view, thought to be an underused advantage La Crosse has over convention centers in other communities.
“Really create a whole new west face,” Greusel said.
Board member Bill Hoel favored having more of the building curve out over Front Street to allow for additional open outdoor space off the new ballroom. “That just begs to have a pavilion,” Hoel said.
The walkway could have side areas for socializing as well, Greusel said.
Other items on the “shopping list” of potential upgrades included new LED signs and a marquee at the Pearl Street corner, lighting, sound system, scoreboards, concessions, relocating administration out of the lobby area, adding a business center and improving the look of the facades both on the center and the parking structure across Second Street.
But it will depend on how much La Crosse is willing to invest. Greusel did not list any cost estimates for either version or the other proposed changes, saying it was premature until they narrow down the scope of the project.
But it likely will be eight figures, considering the city spent $14 million in 2000 on the South Hall addition that roughly doubled the center’s size.
That’s why, for now, the two designs offered stayed within the existing building footprint. While it has been suggested the center could add another 10,000 to 12,000 square feet by acquiring the Radisson Center just to the south, it’s unlikely any building would immediately be able to be built on that site.
The next step will be to develop three-dimensional images for the plans along with preliminary cost estimates. Greusel will bring a draft report back to the board in June.
The board then hopes to host a public planning charrette in July before introducing its final report for city council consideration and a possible vote in August.
Though the plans are still tentative, the center did request some funding placeholders for the 2016 capital improvement budget so work could begin in 2016, Fahey said.
“I think that’s ambitious,” Fahey said, “but not impossible.”