La Crosse airport celebrates remodel, new space for military

Remodel costs $14.2 million

The airport in La Crosse opened in 1989, and after about 20 years, staff said, the terminal was aging.

In 2013, a remodel of both the inside and out began, and on Thursday city leaders and residents celebrated its completion.

The La Crosse Regional Airport serves roughly 200,000 passengers a year. The airport’s manager, Clinton Torp, said the remodel makes it more of an enjoyable experience, instead of a place passengers, including the men and women of the U.S. military, dread.

“It’s a remodeled facility, something the community can be proud of,” Torp said.

The entire inside of the terminal was remodeled.

“Everything from changing the security checkpoint and the hold area from the downstairs to the upstairs, all new wall finishings, mechanical systems, electrical systems, the level of amenities has grown significantly,” Torp said.

Among the new amenities is the USO Welcome Center. A space dedicated specifically to service men and women and their families.

“This experience, with the amenities that it’s going to provide, the service it’s going to provide, is going to allow them to relax, gather their thoughts and really think about that next step, which is going to be very intense and very challenging training,” Col. Steve Nott said.

The new center is estimated to serve 100,000 service members every year as they travel to and from Fort McCoy. Nott said it will improve a soldier’s experience at Fort McCoy because the airport is often their first impression of the area.

“I think knowing that there is a USO center here, and as nice as this one is, they’ll choose to fly here instead of flying into Minneapolis,” Dan Toomey, USO Wisconsin president, said.

Before the renovations, if 100 soldiers were dropped off at the airport, many would have to sleep on the floor, Torp said. Now the USO Welcome Center provides the brave men and women a space and service they deserve.

“I can tell you just based on my previous experiences with the USO, traveling all around the country or all around the world, having that little spot to go to to decompress prior to hitting your training ground and really ramping up, is very important,” Capt. Randall Sumbles said.

The Welcome Center is staffed 100% by USO volunteers. The La Crosse and Milwaukee airports are the only two in Wisconsin to have a USO Welcome Center.

The cost of the remodel was about $14.2 million with about 80 percent of that coming from state and federal funds. The rest came from the airport. No local taxpayer money was used.

The airport has one more big project scheduled. It will be adding a third jet bridge this year to accommodate larger and more airplanes at one time, which Torp said will help the airport grow in the future.