Major real estate development projects may soon be coming to La Crosse

Between the ShopKo stores closing, Valley View Mall losing anchor stores and Kmart leaving La Crosse, the city is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue, but there’s a plan to change all of that.

We looked at why the city thinks it can make all of those sites greater than ever.

Jason Gilman, the director of planning and development with the city of La Crosse, said the city is currently talking with the owners of those locations and real estate developers to transform those storefronts into something La Crosse has never seen before.

“That’s a huge opportunity for the region,” Gilman said.

Between the ShopKo locations, Kmart and the anchor stores at Valley View Mall, the city says it has around 70 to 80 acres of land that can be turned into anything.

“Just to put it into perspective, the Belle Square project here in downtown is on about two and a half acres, and that’s $70 million of investment,” Gilman said.

The city would love to build more and bigger mixed use spaces like Belle Square all around La Crosse.

“We’re noticing trends around the country where these sites are converting to more mixed use development. Which indicates a mix of housing, restaurants, entertainment some retail,” Gilman said.

Those spaces offer several benefits and they’re less likely to experience economic problems.

“Those sites you know with mixed use on them tend to be a little bit more stable. Because they’re not subject to the volatility of one area of the market,” Gilman said.

But there’s a problem.

“Time is of the essence,” Gilman said.

The longer they wait, the harder it is to pull off.

Vicki Markussen, the executive director of the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, said, “The bigger concern for municipalities is the longer that, that property remains vacant it’s harder to get large stores in as we’re seeing. So there’s legitimate concern that there’s going to be a huge drop in the commercial side of property taxes.”

Still, if the city can get it done, it wouldn’t just help property owners, it would benefit everyone.

“The mixed use concept allows people to get closer to services, take advantage of transit lines, possibly have more economic housing which gives them more disposable income at the end of the month, which makes La Crosse a more desirable place,” Gilman said.

In the meantime, the city is losing money on property taxes.

When a store like Shopko closes at Bridgeview Plaza, for example, the building it’s housed in is typically devalued, which means the building owner pays less in taxes to the city.

When another store goes back in, the property value goes up and the city can collect more taxes.

The city also says when a store like ShopKo closes, the area receives less foot traffic and all of the smaller stores around it are more likely to move, which is why it’s important to make sure the storefronts don’t stay empty for too long.

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