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Residential, retail planned for former La Crosse Plow site in downtown La Crosse

There are plans to turn the old La Crosse Plow Co. along Second Street into a mix of retail and residential space.

The owners of the historic La Crosse Plow Co. building told a city committee Thursday they hope to turn the former downtown manufacturing site into residential and retail space beginning next year.

The Cleary family has requested a $2.4 million tax incremental financing loan from the city of La Crosse to help finance the estimated $25 million to $33 million renovation of the two-block former factory, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in March.

“It’s got wonderful bones, but it has so much more to offer,” Kristine Cleary told the city’s Economic Development Commission on Thursday.

The project encompasses both the three-story brick building and the one-story former foundry connected to it just to the north at 525 N. Second St. The developers plan to put in 60 residential units on the upper floors — with the possibility of a fourth-floor addition to add another 12 units — and retail, office or commercial space on the ground floor of the brick building, depending on demand.

Kristine Cleary said ideally the front of the building would face the river and some retail spaces, such as a cafe or coffee shop, would face south with some outdoor seating.

“Who doesn’t like to sit outside and eat or have a cup of coffee in the summer or the spring?” she asked.

The parking lot to the south would serve the retail space, and 133 parking stalls for residents are planned for the northern building.

“It used to be a foundry building, so it had to have a lot of ventilation. We’re hoping to bring that back,” Kristine Cleary said.

The site grew out of Albert Hirshheimer’s blacksmith operation, which produced plows, rakes and other agricultural equipment designed to be pulled by horses. Hirshheimer incorporated his business as La Crosse Plow Co. and moved to Second Street between 1909 and 1914.

“They had over 2,000 employees at one point, so it was huge for manufacturing and very critical to La Crosse,” Sandra Cleary said.

The building housed the La Crosse Plow Co., which was one of the largest employers in La Crosse at one time, until 1929, when it was purchased by Allis-Chalmers Co. Now defunct, Allis-Chalmers was once one of the largest tractor and agricultural implement manufacturers in the country.

The building subsequently housed Machine Products Co., later Precision Technology Inc., which produced engine parts until it failed in 1995. The building has been vacant for the past 21 years.

“There’s not a lot of fanciness, but you can just feel the strength of it,” Sandra Cleary said.

The designation as a historic building makes the site eligible for historic tax credits to offset renovation costs.

The owners plan to start on the north end of the building in February, and the project is tentatively scheduled to be finished in 2018.

“We wanted to move forward on this project many times; it’s just a very complicated project,” Kristine Cleary said.

With the buildings’ age and former use, there are environmental factors that require careful consideration — particularly at the north end, which was condemned in 2013 — but the Clearys are confident it will fill a need and be an asset to the downtown area.

“We really would like to partner with the city as a collaborator to get this project off the ground and get it moving,” Kristine Cleary said.

The commission will discuss the request next month after city staff have had the chance to gather financial information and draft a development agreement, but members were optimistic.

La Crosse Common Council and commission member Audrey Kader said, “To me, it’s just so exciting that we’re seeing a very strong likelihood of pulling this thing together. It’s important to the city.”

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat added that the project would add to the city’s already vibrant downtown.

“We look forward to seeing this evolve because of its significance, its history and its importance to the city,” Kabat said.

The project is the latest addition to downtown revitalization, which most recently has included the $68 million Belle Square project going up on the former La Crosse County Lot C site, numerous hotels and the planned Chalmers office building on Second Street, among others.

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City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

(23) comments


[whistling][whistling][whistling]Your tax bill will not give you the correct figures regarding the Great La Crosse TIF Scams.. your tax bill 'lies' to you about it:

In addition, the CivicLab is organizing an online petition to force lawmakers to address the best part of the scam—the fact that your tax bill lies to you about it. "Getting the correct information on the tax bill is a big start," says Tresser. "If you have property in TIF districts, the property tax must reveal the impact of what you pay. It's so fundamental."

f you're a renter, your landlord passes you the property tax tab in your rent. But if you're an owner, each year the county sends you a property tax bill that you probably don't pay attention to, other than paying it.

That bill itemizes down to the penny how much of your taxes are being sent to schools, parks, the city, etc—things you're more or less OK with spending your money on. In truth, lots of it is going into the TIF slush fund to finance things you probably don't want your money spent on, like the aforementioned office building in River North.


Don't believe me? Well, look at your tax bill. If you live in a TIF district, it will tell you that you pay zero dollars to the TIF, as in no money at all. When, of course, that is not the case. Think, people—if no one paid money into the TIF district, there would be no money to subsidize River Point.

When I first reported this—approximately ten billion light years ago—the city blamed it on the county and the county blamed it on the city. And off the record everyone told me that it's better to let the tax bills lie, because if they told the truth about where tax dollars go, the peasants might revolt.

Let's face it: Chicago's peasants are just too sleepy to revolt.

Still, give Cook County clerk David Orr some credit. He set up a system on his website that enables you to see how tax dollars in TIF districts are actually allocated. As opposed to how the "official" tax bill says they're allocated.

For example, let's look at the property tax bill for the South Loop townhouse once owned by Mayor Daley, who pretty much invented Chicago's TIF program. According to the bill, that property—now owned by Mayor Daley's daughter—was responsible for $12,889 in taxes this year. Of that, $6,804 went to the Chicago Public Schools.

But if you plug the address into Orr's converter, you'll discover that in fact only $506 went to the schools. Instead, about $11,922, or 92 percent of the total, went to something called the Near South TIF. Which, interestingly enough, helped finance the development of the very townhouse community where the property's located.

To compensate for the $6,298 it's not getting out of the Daleys' bill, CPS increases the amount the rest of us pay, even if we don't live in that TIF. Because the money's got to come from somewhere.

It's that way for all of the roughly 150 TIFs in Chicago. And you wonder why you pay so much in taxes while the schools stay broke.


Bucky, these buildings were built to last hundreds of years. Any new construction that you think is better would last about 50-75 years. That's the life of new construction. Cheap materials. This building is far from an eyesore. Wait til it's finished. There is no way something new would look or fit in better than this treasure.

Jim Rosenberg

People should wait to see the details of the proposal. With a properly structured Tax Increment Financing deal, the money being expended is generated by the project. It is therefore NOT money taken from other taxpayers. If there is no project, then there is no money to talk about. If there is a project, then it should provide the new, taxable value to repay the outlay. La Crosse is pretty good at this stuff and evaluates the performance of its TIF investments quite fastidiously. That site looks challenging and this looks like a good opportunity to repurpose it -- one that may not come around again soon, if it is rejected without good reason. Let's wait and see what the math looks like over time, since this would clearly be a much higher and better use than what is occurring right now on that site.


[thumbdown][thumbdown][thumbdown]JR: "With a properly structured Tax Increment Financing deal, the money being expended is generated by the project. It is therefore NOT money taken from other taxpayers. If there is no project, then there is no money to talk about. If there is a project, then it should provide the new, taxable value to repay the outlay. La Crosse is pretty good at this stuff and evaluates the performance of its TIF investments quite fastidiously."

No, it does not. Check out the numbers sometime: the Tribune will be happy to provide them for you—the Trib has the figures but they are afraid to publish them for fear of upsetting key advertisers. This city has made radical cuts to traditional services because TIF diverts funds from essential city functions.

TIFs: the tax bill you have to pay but never see

The program intended to help the poorest of the poor largely benefits the well to do


Any TIF allowance should be used for demolition and new construction . That is the point, after all - to rejuvenate neglected areas. While the building is historically important, new construction would better suite this area and it's tax payers.

Bucky Fan

The Cleary family obviously has no shame to be asking for our taxpayer money to help line their pockets. Tear this eyesore down!. And it was pretty sneaky how they got the nutjobs on the La Crosse Historical Society to get this rat hole listed on the National Registry to block doing the right thing by tearing it down. And the Mayor has loss my support for siding with the money grubber Clearys.


Great to see another old building become new again. Downtown La Crosse is the envy of every city in the state. My question is what will happen to the north facade facing the Oktoberfest grounds?


[thumbdown][thumbdown][thumbdown] the rest of the city lives with bad roads, minimal police protection, cuts to library funding—because their tax money was stolen by rich out-of-town fat cat developers instead.

FBI: shut down the corrupt Good Old Boys Network at the La Crosse City Hall! We're like Nagin's New Orleans around here, with country-club golf buddies stealing public money from the property taxpayers of the City of La Crosse!

“No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious & charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country


I'm just not seeing anything aesthetically pleasing to the eye on this building. Especially the north end. Sometimes even historic buildings should go by the wayside and just start over. Would be nice to see final design plans. But, it's their property to do with - whatever. They should not get a dime of public tax money though. Doesn't La Crosse already have problems funding streets, their libraries, etc. Why is it that they can always find ways to subsidize the millionaire class while retired and working class folks have to scrape by to pay their city/county property taxes? SMH....


Like the Barron Island project, this project sounds too rich for La Crosse. The math comes out at about $500,000 per residence. This isn't New York City. The Gerrard brothers learned this lesson a dozen years ago with Gateway Terrace at 6th and main where many of the units never sold for over a decade. I wonder how solvent that condo association is?


Before the city starts throwing money at this project, let the owners clean up the environmental concerns they mention. Having worked there I know some of the hazardous waste dumped on that property. Also, there were stability issues with some of the machines due to the vast amounts of wood remnants from sawmills deposited under the buildings floor.

random annoying bozo

Heilemans had a very large stockholder base of local lacrosse area residents, so given the logic of some of the previous commenters, all those small local shareholders, many still residents of lacrosse, succumbed to greed to.
the sale of heilemnas brought untold wealth into the lacrosse area, there were many young couples who had been given stock by their parents and grandparents that were able to purchase homes, and other things. the ripple effect of all that new wealth into the lacrosse economy was huge.


Laxresident2408- wasn't Heilman's a publicly traded company? Russ Cleary diversified the company with the intent to create a climate that wasn't conducive to a hostile takeover. My guess is Russ Cleary was not in the pockets of certain people in Washington when Heileman was trying to acquire certain brewery's prior to the Bond takeover. Case in point would be Strohs. Allen Bond was the poster child for all that was wrong with the facade they called junk bonds. While Cleary did everything to protect GHB, it was Allen Bond and his phony money who you can blame for its demise.


Heileman's was bought out with their own cash reserves. Stockpiling cash is what companies do when they WANT to get bought out. Heileman's was also bad for beer, they owned over 200 brands but they put less than a dozen recipes of weak watery beer into those 200 brands. America lost a lot of good beers thanks to Heilemans, thankfully some of them are coming back now.

Comment deleted.
Melowese Richardson

Wrong, on so many levels it is actually scary.

Comment deleted.
Melowese Richardson

Don't let facts get in the way of your baseless rant.


The Heilman takeover was hostile, meaning the management team and board of directors did everything they could to stop it. Russell Cleary did not sell out of greed. That is a false characterization of the events. While he was human and therefore imperfect, he was a good businessman and booster of La Crosse. On the whole his career was a positive to this community.


There were things that could have been done way ahead of time to prevent this from occurring.

Melowese Richardson

Badboy, do tell with your many years of executive business experience and the accumulated business acumen you've acquired.


[scared][scared][scared]Re: "The Cleary family has requested a $2.4 million tax incremental financing loan from the city of La Crosse to help finance the estimated $25 million to $33 million renovation of the two-block former factory, which was named to the National Register of Historic Places in March."

Here's more despicable Trump-style Republican-style thievery from city property taxpayers.. write your corrupt mayor's office and your corrupt city council member to tell them no more TIF abuse, no more graft and corruption. Enough is enough.

TIF Abuse Buoys Downtown Fat Cats, As Neighborhoods Suffer

Grassroots Collaborative offers a look at the "gross misuse" of tax increment financing funds in Chicago's downtown area, explaining how it comes at the expense of some already-struggling neighborhoods.

Comment deleted.

You speak blasphemy! Everyone in La Crosse acts as if Russ Cleary was a great man who did nothing but great things for the city. I tend to agree with you. He sold out to greed and couldn't care less about what happened after he got his gold coins.

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