Retail, entertainment and business converge in La Crosse’s city center. Home to 440 businesses, with a flourishing arts district and numerous events, downtown La Crosse has earned the right to be deemed vibrant. While revitalization efforts have been underway for a quarter century, downtown La Crosse is in the midst of perhaps its most transformative time ever.
2015 saw the completion of the Charmant Hotel, a $27 million renovation of a century-old building near Riverside Park along the Mississippi. It’s one of four new hotels to be added to the thriving downtown area. An additional $30 million was invested in the construction of three other hotels: the Hampton Inn, the Fairfield Inn and Hilton Home2 Suites. All will be taking reservations by spring 2016.
“Having four new hotels come into the downtown district certainly draws attention to what is happening here,” said Robin Moses, director of Downtown Mainstreet Inc., the organization charged with overseeing redevelopment and revitalization efforts.
The Charmant is one of two major downtown developments by private investor Weber Holdings LLC. The other is the $68 million Lot C project, a three-phase project that will transform an entire city block to add 90-plus housing units, plus office and retail space, restaurants, parking and more.
And it’s already paying bigger dividends.
“That private investment being put into our community gives everybody the confidence to put more investment into their own building,” said Moses.
That confidence has spurred roughly 35 property improvements since July 2014. “And we are filling empty storefronts right and left,” added Moses. “We have about 5 to 6 percent availability.”
Downtown life is booming and people want to be a part of it. As building owners improve their facades, they are also tapping into historic tax credits to renovate upper levels into condos and apartment lofts.
With large employers as well as numerous restaurants, shops and hotels, employment opportunities abound for current students and graduates of the area’s three higher learning institutions: UW-La Crosse, Viterbo College and Western Technical College.
Among those working downtown are La Crosse County employees, who will see new digs in 2016, thanks to the Lot C development and county investment of $22 million.
“A number of years ago, La Crosse County committed to consolidating into a campus in downtown La Crosse to improve operational efficiencies. We have since made investments in our Health and Human Services Building and Law Enforcement Center on this campus, so when considering alternative locations for the Administrative Center, it made the most sense to build upon that investment,” said county community development specialist Brian Fukuda, noting the accessibility of the downtown location for both employees and customers.
“We already have about 7,000 employees working in the downtown radius,” said Moses. “We are not just a downtown that is relying on tourism. We are a working downtown, and now we are adding more people to live downtown. It maximizes what can be when you have tourism and workers and people living downtown. That is your perfect scenario.”