La Crosse Center breaks ground on $42 million expansion project

LA CROSSE, Wi. (WEAU)-- The La Crosse center broke ground Friday morning on its expansion project, which will add nearly 32,000 square feet.

A new ballroom and atrium, as well as a re-constructed North Hall are all in the works.

For many, the center is a part of La Crosse's identity.

"To have this [center], it means that there are national shows that come here to our area and our staff work really hard to bring those," said Mayor Tim Kabat. "It also means that we have a space that I think really pays homage to La Crosse."

The multi-phase project has a budget of $42 million.

The state of Wisconsin is contributing $5 million, as it believes the center brings benefits to more than just La Crosse.

"It's an opportunity for a re-branding and a re-invention of the community when it comes to the tourism and convention industry," said Joel Brennan, Wisconsin Department of Administration secretary. "That has an impact here, has an impact with the hotel partners and the whole hospitality community in La Crosse, but it also has a regional and a state wide economic impact."

The city of La Crosse is funding the other $37 million in a variety of ways.

"There's about $2 million of cash that we provided and then the rest of it is going to be financed through borrowing," Kabat said. "A large portion of that borrowing is going to be paid back from room tax dollars."

It's taken five and a half years to get to the groundbreaking Friday and organizers say they are excited to officially get the project started.

"It fits in the category of thrilled. It's happening, it's moving forward. We're excited as a staff, as a team down here," said Art Fahey, director of La Crosse Center.

Organizers are working to keep project construction La Crosse based, with 80% of the contracts given to local companies.

Construction is expected to be completed by 2021.