An iconic part of the La Crosse Oktoberfest came crashing down Wednesday.
The Bier Hall was the first of three buildings that Xcel Energy planned to demolish by Friday. It’s been a part of Oktoberfest since the 1970s, but the hall came down in just a few hours.
The demolition is the start of a clean-up project to remove contaminated soil from La Crosse’s north side – 10 percent of which sits underneath the fest grounds. Xcel has pursued the project for nearly 30 years, and this is the last leg of the process.
For those who've been involved with both the project and the fest for decades, it was a tough thing to watch this morning.
Leroy Wilder has been the project manager for the decontamination project since 1985, and he’s attended Oktoberfest for decades. Watching the Bier Hall come down in a plume of smoke dug up some old memories for him.
"I've spent a lot of time here, both as a participant and when I was in college, we played polka band down here,” he said.
He's not the only one reminiscing. Workers stopped to watch as a crew demolished the building, taking pictures and recalling their own memories there.
Crews would scoop up what's left of the building over the next few days, with plans for digging set to begin next week.
"We'll be taking anywhere from 4 to 14 feet in depth in this entire area, removing the soil, trucking it out and replacing it with clean fill,” said Xcel spokesperson Mike Herro.
It's not an easy thing to watch for those who've been involved since it began, including Oktoberfest president Doug Kratt.
"It’s a little bittersweet that it’s coming down,” Kratt said. “It’s one of the iconic figures of Oktoberfest USA."
"It's about time for some change."
But Wilder is convinced the empty space left by the Bier Hall leaves room for something new.
"It’s time for a change,” he said. “I think what will become of this will be much better than what we have now.”
Something new is exactly what Oktoberfest officials are hoping for. Xcel plans to have its project done by June 21, which gives Oktoberfest officials only a few months to build a new Bier Hall. They're not sure if they'll have a permanent structure up and running by fest time, but they plan on resorting to temporary buildings for the 2014 event if necessary.