Construction officially begins on +$40 Million La Crosse Center expansion project

It’s been a long time coming, but construction is officially underway on the La Crosse Center expansion project. For years, city and center officials have worked on the details on everything from funding to the design.

Some of the city and center officials that have been a part of the project since ‘day one’ were at the groundbreaking ceremony. While it started out as just a dream about six years ago, the amount of public work has really ramped up within the last two years.

At the beginning of 2017, a design and construction management team were selected. From there, they started with eight possible design options before selecting just two designs.

But the project hit a snag in the summer of 2018, when the Mayor vetoed a design concept because it went into Riverside Park and would exceed a $42 million price tag. Finally, after going back to the drawing board, the city council approved a design concept in January.

Project leaders and other officials acknowledged that this was a long process during the ceremony Friday, but say it will be worth it. Center and city officials say the more than $40 million project will have a huge impact not only on La Crosse, but the region.

“We’re going to be building something that everybody can be proud of for decades in the future,” said Art Fahey, director of the La Crosse Center.

The updated center will include a 12,892 square foot ballroom area, 7,226 square foot atrium, seven additional meeting rooms, solar panels and more. The design plans can be found here.

“The rooftop terrace to the north side is going to be, I think, is going to be used more than we ever imagined,” said Brent Smith, president of the La Crosse Center Board.

At peak construction, officials with Kraus-Anderson say about 200 people could be working on the site.

“80% of the contracts that have been awarded for this project have gone to local area La Crosse contractors,” said Tom Roepke, vice president and director of operations for Kraus-Andersen.

But the economic impact will be felt across the community, especially at area hotels.

“Those are some of the first jobs and some of the step ladder jobs that I think are really important in communities like this,” said Joel Brennan, secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

A 2017 study found it would bring in an estimated 15 to 24 thousand new visitors annually.

“Our county is ninth in tourism out of 72 counties and we’re happy with that. But we want to do even better,” said State Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse.

The hope is that the revamped center will stand out against other spaces and draw in more conventions, weddings, proms and other events. Despite the price tag and need to increase the room tax because of it, the hope is that the investment will pay off.

“Not only do we want to see the folks from Minnesota, but we want to see the folks from Iowa and Illinois and other places coming here just because of what we have to offer,” said Tim Kabat, mayor of La Crosse.

One unknown about paying for this project is how other surrounding communities will chip in. Kabat said that they are looking at how other similar convention centers have addressed that. After the start of the new year, city leaders will be coming back to that issue.

Construction will go in phases, but is expected to be completed in late 2021.

Get your weather forecast from people that actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.