LA CROSSE, Wis. - A community organizer's redirection of funds is raising concern for another project he was involved with.
La Crosse SOUP founder Andrew Londre recently admitted to redirecting donated money from one project to another.
Londre raised thousands of dollars through a Kickstarter account for college students to carry out various community improvement projects using their own ideas. When a majority of those projects never happened, he used the money instead to help bring a reality show to La Crosse that highlights young entrepreneurs.
Londre said he's now paying back the donors. He also said he's stepping aside from another community effort he was involved with -- the rebranding of the city's north side business district to Uptowne.
The Uptowne project organizers said they're moving forward without Andrew Londre, and have high hopes for the future of the northside neighborhood, but some in the area have a few concerns.
Ty Striebel repairs instruments at his shop Old Towne Strings in what's now called Old Towne.
"I like this neighborhood mainly because of the people and what it stood for in the beginning -- working hard, getting your hands into your work,” he said.
But now his Old Towne neighborhood is being rebranded as Uptowne, which he doesn't think is the best fit for the area.
"I'm very much for the revitalization of this neighborhood,” Striebel said. “I think it all kind of came real fast to everyone."
Striebel said there's no general consensus between business owners on the project.
"It is kind of a mixed bag, as far as residents even,” he said.
Striebel had a few worries about Uptowne even before Londre stepped back from the campaign.
"I know it concerned a lot of people because there were a lot of questions,” Striebel said.
In a full statement, Londre said "I don't think re-litigating the past is going to help anyone or anything at this point. The SOUP project was started to help, not hurt. Those involved have already said their piece. It's best that we just offer the return of funds to those who donated. I have offered a thorough explanation of the situation already and have taken responsibility for it. I have expressed regrets about my role in this. In an effort to allow our community to heal, I offered to personally replenish the fund for the students. After thoughtful consideration and feedback, the consensus was to offer the donors their money back. That process has begun and is solely my focus right now. As for Uptowne, I offered to step back from the project so that I could focus on resolving issues of SOUP and to insulate Uptowne from any lingering questions about the relationship between two unrelated projects. My offer to step aside was accepted and now that critical project is in different, fully capable hands.”
Uptowne organizer and North La Crosse Business Association president Nick Roush says it's full steam ahead for the project.
"We've got a good thing in Uptowne and let's not let some unfortunate news spoil that, and let's keep a good thing going,” he said.
Roush says it's good timing for the project, as the city is also working on a highway 53 project.
"It's good to know the money is still there in the bank account for Uptowne to use,” Striebel said. “It's also good to know there's people capable of helping out these businesses."
Even though Striebel may not be thrilled with the name Uptowne, he's happy to contribute to revitalization efforts.
"I would love to just see all the businesses do well. If you're going to call it Uptowne, you can call it Uptowne.” he said. "Personally, I love Old Towne. I always will."
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