The storyline of the La Crosse Center expansion has turned in a new direction.
Projects of this magnitude rarely, if ever, follow a straight-line path.
On this scale, money is measured in millions, and time is measured in years. Many people cooperatively share the call of leadership throughout and between phases of the process.
My time has ended, but a new chapter begins. Mayor Tim Kabat has wisely nominated Scott Neumeister to be appointed to the La Crosse Center Board.
Any of my colleagues would have brought strengths and talents, each unique to their own experiences and passions, to bring a new perspective to the Center expansion project.
Neumeister’s strong background in real estate, his success in running a small business, his roots as a Logan graduate, his lifelong ties to La Crosse, his candid honesty and his ability to have down-to-earth conversations with citizens will be invaluable assets to the Center Board as the process unfolds.
To best set the stage for Neumeister, I want to publicly address several of the most frequent questions and misunderstandings regarding the “alternatives” available to the La Crosse Center Board.
- “Build up, not out (over the top of the existing arena):” The arena was not constructed to withstand addition of a floor on top. The engineering analysis ruled this out a long time ago.
- “Build out over North Hall:” This option was actually “Option A” from mid-2017, which was unanimously shot down by several dozen downtown business owners and residents for blocking the visual connection between Downtown and Riverside Park. At a public input meeting in October 2017 with about 100 people in attendance, the unanimous desire of the public in attendance was to go west (the B1 option).
- “Just fix up what you have:” This does not address the need for larger contiguous space to retain existing clients who are growing, nor does it facilitate going after new markets of larger scale events. The Center is increasingly competing against other local venues which, in many cases, offer comparable capacity in a newer facility. If any investment of this scale is made, it needs to pull the Center out of the sandtrap and into a new tier that does not have competition driving rents down.
- “Bulldoze and build new (at current or new location):” We don’t have $150 million to $200 million (per architects’ estimate) to recreate what is already sitting there with decades of life left to the structures.
- Anything related to design: This is not the design phase of the project. This is the floorplan phase. The primary driver of the floorplan phase is economic function of the layout in conjunction with architectural and engineering analysis to tell us what is physically possible and within any reasonable range of the budget. The design phase, which is lengthy and expensive and will involve rigorous public input, will begin only after a successful and feasible floorplan is decided upon.
There is an overwhelming amount of information involved in the process.
Decisions are thoughtfully made with care and concern by board members who have nothing but love for the city and desire to serve the common good.
The best analogy I can offer is that this is like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, with each piece representing a fact or a piece of information.
Board members and the architectural team can see several hundred pieces at any given time, Council members and the mayor see a hundred or so, and the public can only see about two dozen.
Everyone wants to see the final picture, but be inquisitive before being critical; ask questions, take time to learn the parameters the board is working under, attend meetings and offer constructive thoughts that don’t include any of the “alternatives” I’ve addressed in this column, otherwise you’ll drive Council member Neumeister bananas.
Serving on the La Crosse Center board has been an unearned privilege, and despite my time on the Center board being so short, this highlight of my public service will be a memory I’ll cherish the rest of my life.
I will miss sitting at the table with some of the sharpest minds in our great city.
Congratulations, Scott. I know you’ll do marvelous work.