In the business of getting together: La Crosse Center prepares to enact social distancing, other guidelines at events

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– While there is no statewide or county-wide restrictions on large gatherings, ongoing concerns over the coronavirus is halting major events. At what is one of the busiest times of the year, except for construction, the La Crosse Center is silent.

The center closed its doors on March 18th and hasn’t reopened to the public since. While it is preparing to reopen, leaders know that some people might hold off on coming in. When people do go inside, not only will it look physically different because of the renovation and expansion project, but because of the pandemic.

Hotel California, Zor Shrine Circus, Harlem Globetrotters and UW-La Crosse’s graduation are just some of the concerts, shows and events scheduled for the La Crosse Center, but were canceled because of the coronavirus. The Center Board said during a public meeting Wednesday, it may see a three-figure loss this year because of the pandemic.

“We’ve had some cancellations for the summer, we’ve had some cancellations for the fall,” said Brent Smith, chair of the La Crosse Center board.

The center is preparing to reopen it’s lobby next week, but beyond that, Smith said people aren’t ready yet to be in a crowd.

“Ironically, we are in the business of trying to get large groups together. Which I think will still be a challenge for the foreseeable future,” Smith said.

And there are still a lot of unknowns. The board is still considering how capacity limits or social distancing might affect business.

But the immediate loss in business is not for a lack of wanting to have the event. Elizabeth Poh, a sales and events coordinator for the center, said many were just rescheduling.

“They’re looking ahead to 2021, 2022, and 2023, and so on and how their group can come to the center and what we can offer them,” Poh said.

According to Smith, they are sending out proposals right now for events like weddings, arena events, tradeshows and more for 2021 and 2022. And some new conferences are considering the space for future dates.

“One of the things obviously that our customers are interested in is what are you going to do, what kind of protections do you have to make it a safe environment, a healthy environment so we have to have a plan,” Smith said.

They have a preliminary guide of things they can do like increased cleaning and showing people were to stand. The guide from the center says this is for the early stages of reopening.  More will need to be received such as security and screening, restrooms, seating, backstage, dressing rooms and other more communal areas.

“We have food at different events and there will be different types of packaging, different types of protection for people having food served,” Smith said.

They utilize these steps in the days, weeks and months ahead. Despite the concerns, there are still some events scheduled for this year.

The La Crosse Center box office lobby will reopen Tuesday. It will still have reduced hours. People can go in-person Monday through Friday from 9 A.M. to 1 P.M.