La Crosse Parks Board approves lease for old Fish Lab building in Riverside Park as entertainment venue

Fish Hatchery Public Input Meeting
Renovations are in process on the former fisheries lab at Riverside Park. (News 8 Now photo)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The La Crosse Parks Board approved a lease Thursday with Hatchery LLC for the former fish lab in Riverside Park for use as an event center, AirBnB and patio beer garden beginning Jan. 1.

The lease, approved unanimously to advance to the city’s Finance and Personnel Committee, lasts through Dec. 31, 2031, but it includes an option to renew for up to two more five-year periods.

The 18-page contract stipulates rent of $2,200 a month or 2.5 percent of gross annual income, whichever is greater, for the first four years.

The rent during years five through nine would increase to $5,000 a month or 2.5 percent of gross annual income, whichever is greater. From the 10th through the 19th years, the rent would be $7,000 a month or 2.5 percent of gross annual income, whichever is greater, according to the 18-page lease contract.

Payments will be deposited in the Riverside Improvement Fund of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. The city may use up to $10,000 a year from the proceeds to pay for improving the Riverside International Friendship Gardens, according to the lease.

The lease also includes a provision to protect the gardens, with an amendment inserted Thursday noting that Hatchery LLC “will do nothing to detract from these gardens,” and “will not do anything that will harm or detract from the peaceful atmosphere and general public use of said gardens.”

The amendment also acknowledges that Hatchery LLC will be responsible for any damage that its employees, customers or contractors might cause to the gardens.

Any capital improvements that Hatchery LLC makes to the building may be used as rent credits up to 85 percent of construction costs.

The dilapidated building is being renovated and updated, with the city budgeting $1 million this year and next year for that work.

The lease approval came a week after the Common Council voted 12-1 to OK changing the zoning for the building on Veterans Memorial Drive on the north end of the park from public/semi-public to commercial district.

The process has been fraught with division, with some residents and officials contending that the company has had an unfair advantage, being the only one involved in submitting a development proposal. Others have fretted that the project would be disruptive to Riverside Park and a nearby apartment building.
In addition to going to the Finance and Personnel Committee, the lease also is subject to the approval of the Common Council.
“This lease is another step in allowing the public to look at the plan before it goes to the Common Council,” said Jay Odegaard, the city’s parks, recreation and forestry director.
Public-private partnerships such as this have presented the only vehicles for preserving assets such as the Pump House and the South Side Senior Center, Odegaard said.


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