ONALASKA, WI -

The effort to build a new cultural and tourism center in Onalaska has been ongoing for more than five years.

Now, some want the city to consider scrapping plans to build brand-new construction and use vacant buildings instead.

The Timber Square buildings have been sitting vacant on Highway 35 in Onalaska for months.

They cost about half of what it would to build brand-new, which is one main reason why former Onalaska Mayor Clarence Stellner is asking the council to consider a change of plans.

"The location is great. Everybody can see it," said Stellner.

But location isn't the only reason Stellner is asking the council to consider using it as the new site for the cultural and tourism center.

"I think it would be a big money-saver for the community," said Stellner.

The buildings cost about $1 million, versus the $2.5 million under the current plans to build a brand-new center.

And while it may sound like an obvious savings, Onalaska Common Council President Jim Bialecki said: Not so fast.

"If the city was to buy that building, there would be a lot of property taxes lost over the years. On the other hand, in the existing proposal, there's been a lot that's been put into that already," said Bialecki.

Bialecki said you also have to factor in the $1.5 million in state and federal grants the city has already received for the waterfront redevelopment project, which the new center is a part of.

"If for some reason the city opted to go in a different direction, that money would have to be given back to the government," said Bialecki.

But from Stellner's point of view, it's an opportunity too good to pass up.

"You can also put a gift shop in it. It's on the bike trail, it's on the snowmobile trail, it's on the walking trail. In the front over here, you could have your tourism office," said Stellner.

And while Bialecki said it may not pay off in the long run, he said it is worth taking a look at.

"We should probably take a look at it, but we need to look at a lot of hard facts," said Bialecki.

One of the alderpersons said he's concerned about taking any more time to consider different options, since the project is already taking more than seven years.

If the city sticks with current plans, construction is set to begin late fall of next year off of Highway 35 and Main Street.