LA CROSSE, Wis. - For thousands of families who visit Rotary Lights every year, a walk through the 2.6 million light display just wouldn't be complete without a visit to Santa Claus.
This year, old Saint Nick has a new place to call home.
The house's construction was a cooperative effort between Rotary Lights and the La Crosse Area Builders Association.
In a way, project supervisor Paul Mendell, better known as "Stretch," is one of Santa's elves -- a really, really tall one.
Last week, he put the finishing touches on Santa's new house at Rotary Lights.
"I thought it'd be a little box. I thought, oh heck, we could whip that up in a couple days," said Mendell.
This house is a custom job just for Saint Nick.
"It's not just a straight finish. It's all custom cutting, and then the window trim with the thicknesses and the different unique moldings on the outside," said Mendell.
Santa's last house at Rotary Lights was not insulated or water proof.
Rotary Lights president Pat Stephens said it was time for Chris Cringle to get an upgrade.17544130
"We just put in a fireplace and stuff to add a nice little touch to it here, as well. So our biggest fear is that people are going to come to see Santa and not want to leave," said Stephens.
So what does the big guy himself think of his new place?
"So far, it's been just excellent because, before, there was hardly anybody that could get inside of the building, because there was just no room for anybody to come in. So they were standing out in the rain and the cold. And now we can at least get 10, maybe 15 people in the waiting room," said Santa.
Another new addition this year: The reindeer pen is now in back of Santa's house, where everyone driving through the park can see it.
All eight reindeer will fly in from the North Pole this week. They'll be in Riverside Park through Dec. 23, but then they'll have to fly off. Dec. 24 is a very busy night for them.
Next year, the waiting area will be transformed into Santa's workshop. The room where families exit the house will become a Rotary Lights souvenir shop.
The house was built on a frame on wheels, so it can be rolled in and out of Riverside Park for years to come.
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