The historic flavor of downtown La Crosse is one of the things that make our city unique.
But many of the older buildings in the business district have upper floors sitting vacant
Renovating those upper floors comes with a lot of benefits, both for La Crosse government and La Crosse residents.
It can create housing opportunities, increase property values and boost spending at downtown businesses.
Loans from the city government are helping property owners make it happen.
The upper floors of the historic Doerflinger building in downtown La Crosse sat empty for decades before local start-up Authenticom moved in.
"This space had actually been vacant for over 30 years,” said Authenticom CEO Steve Cottrell.
With the help of an Upper Floor Renovation Loan from the city, local start-up Authenticom turned it into a modern office space.
"We've brought it back into the community as a viable piece of real estate, brought the tax base up several million dollars, and we've created close to 100 jobs," said Cottrell.
Upper Floor Renovation Loans, or UFRLs, are paid for with state trust fund money and can be worth up to $50,000.
The building has to fall within the boundaries of the city's Central Business District, which are the Mississippi River, the La Crosse River, 8th Street and Cameron Avenue.
The property value has to increase at a rate of two times the city's loan.
"People have great ideas. They want to take them to that next level to actually start their own business and I think we're there to help with that. It does help fill in empty storefronts, empty upper floors. I think that benefits the community," said City Planning Director Larry Kirch.
Even though Chris Kahlow, the owner of Jules Coffee, has a city loan to renovate her upstairs space, she said city building codes make it a challenge.
"The current codes, of course, are for building today. These buildings were built in the late 1800s. So there are a lot of challenges with fire codes," said Kahlow.
Even with those hurdles, she thinks the program is important for developing a healthy downtown.
"It really is necessary, I think, for the city to get involved,” said Kahlow. “We have hundreds of underutilized apartments. The market is there to fill them, but we just don't have the apartments renovated right now."
The city offers two other loans as part of its Business Assistance Programs.
Through the Architectural and Engineering Analysis Program, the city pays 80 percent of the cost to hire an architect to check out a building's structural and mechanical conditions.
Small Business Development Loans help local entrepreneurs get their businesses on their feet.
For more information on these loan programs, go to the City Planning Department's website.