When it comes to renovating and expanding the La Crosse Center, here are two words for Mayor Tim Kabat and the La Crosse Common Council:
Earlier this year, the mayor vetoed a previous La Crosse Center proposal that exceeded his budget and fell short of his expectations.
Then came a lengthy pause.
This expansion has been in the planning and discussion stages since 2014, with dozens of public meetings — many sparesely attended.
Last week, though, two new proposals were unveiled at a well-attended public session.
Both would come in at the $42 million price favored by the mayor. Both would add meeting space, meaning we could bring more people to La Crosse. Both would fix some of the overdue maintenance problems.
While it’s easy to lean toward the proposal that provides greater vistas of the Mississippi River (something you won’t find in Appleton), the underlying message needs to be that the city needs to get moving.
This project is too important to our downtown, our hotels and restaurants and businesses — and our tax base — to linger any longer.
The building is nearing 40 years old.
Twenty years ago, South Hall was added. And that greatly ramped up usage and revenue and downtown business.
A study estimates the new addition alone will bring in thousands of new tourists each year and provide millions more in annual economic impact, including more than 100 new jobs in the La Crosse area.
Keep in mind, the La Crosse Center already has an estimated annual economic impact of more than $40 million, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
An expanded La Crosse Center also will bring hundreds of thousands of dollars more in annual hotel room-tax revenue for our region. That’s on top of the $1.4 million annually.
Brent Smith, the longtime La Crosse Center board chairman, says he keeps hearing from business people and other constituents: “Let’s go. Let’s get this done.”
As Smith points out, there’s a lot of competition from other communities vying to host conferences and events.
And, there are customers (see: annual organic farmers) waiting to see whether La Crosse gets moving or risk losing out.
Every fourth person who attends an entertainment event at the center is from out of state. And you can bet those folks enjoy our restaurants and hotels, too.
It is a venue that hosts state and national conferences and family events, too. And it’s a busy place, often holding multiple events during a day.
When Gov. Scott Walker came to La Crosse in 2017 to announce $5 million in state assistance for the La Crosse Center project, he said: “This project not only serves the people of La Crosse, but the tri-state area of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Every year, the La Crosse Center hosts more than 400,000 guests and more than 200 events. The expansion and renovation of the center will inevitably attract more guests as well as businesses and organizations hoping to host their events at the center, which in turn drives local economic development.”
The Common Council isn’t expected to consider the matter until early next year. The expanded center likely won’t open until 2021, although maintenance work could begin sooner.
This project is too important to let languish any longer.
Let’s get moving.