Inside look: Transforming Ross Furniture into a boutique hotel

Published On: Jan 30 2013 12:56:54 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 03 2013 06:54:25 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

Usually when you hear about renovating a historic building, it's getting a new look, but in the case of the current Ross Furniture building in downtown La Crosse, it's actually going back to an old one.

For Logistics Health Inc. CEO Don Weber, it was a not-so-far-away dream.

"When I sit in my office over there, I look out and I see this building. I see it every day," said Weber.

Built in 1898, the Front Street factory has a rich history.

It wasn't always Ross Furniture. Originally, it was home to the Funke Candy Company.

"If you walk through, you can actually still get that aroma of that sweetness that's permeating from the old maple hardwood floors and the old wood beams,” said Weber. “And for someone to come in, and take it down, and use this space for parking or whatever else, it would be sad."

He bought the old factory for $1.5 million to write the next chapter of the building's history.

"I said, 'Hey, what about a boutique hotel?' It's different. It's unique," said Weber.

Executive director of the La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dave Clements, said similar boutique hotels in Milwaukee and Madison attract a certain clientele. He said it will bring a new client base to downtown La Crosse.

"It's a niche in the lodging segment that we currently don't have. And so I think that by building this and developing this project, we add another piece of the puzzle of all the different great properties that we have currently in our area," said Clements.

The look and furnishings in each room will be different. The hotel will also have a restaurant, a lounge and a small banquet facility.

But the idea is to preserve the historic features of the building, like the brick and the maple floors.

"We want to take it back to its original, its very original look, because it's such a unique building. And it's historic," said Weber.

Weber said it's about creating a new piece of history for the city he loves so much.

"Now I think it's our turn to make sure we do what we can so 50 years from now, people look back and this community's still prospering," said Weber.

The $15 million in construction on the building will begin late this year and finish up late next year.

On top of creating work for the construction industry, Weber predicted the hotel will employ about 200 people.

That's the same amount of workers the Funke Candy Company had at its peak in the 1920s.

Colleen Jankowski, the owner of Ross Furniture who sold Weber the building, said she is looking to relocate her business. She hopes her next storefront will still be in downtown La Crosse.