Tuesday, December 12, 2017

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Study: La Crosse Center expansion to pay off

It says project would bring in millions, drive demand for more hotel rooms

LA CROSSE — An economic impact assessment of plans to renovate and expand the La Crosse Center suggests the project would bring in millions of dollars a year and increase demand for hotel rooms downtown.

The study, prepared by consultants with Gensler and ISG and received Monday by the La Crosse Center Board, says the annual economic impact of various expansion designs ranges from $9.6 million and more than 120 jobs to $14.4 million and more than 180 jobs, although board members stressed that the numbers were tentative.

The renovation, for which $42 million in funding has been identified, could cost as much as $55 million, depending on the design.

Councilwoman Jessica Olson, who joined the board in April, said Tuesday she asked the group working on the design to expand on a comparison of economic impacts associated with the three scenarios preferred by city officials, which come in at $55 million, $49 million and $45 million.

“We need to make sure we do it right, and to do it right, we need the best possible information,” she said.

The study estimates the city would see an increase of 7 to 11 percent in total visitors, which would increase demand for hotel rooms. It also says, “The availability of appropriate hotel stock may restrict the level of economic impact until inventory increases to meet full demand potential.”

Olson cautioned against reading too much into that, saying the La Crosse Center is a long-term investment and the market will move according to its needs.

“Nobody expects the center to fill up to capacity in the first 10 years. It’s going to take a while for the center to build up that reputation,” Olson said.

Gensler and ISG’s report says that once operations are stabilized, the city could see an estimated 32,000 to 48,000 annual increase in rooms rented for the night, which would in turn benefit the La Crosse Center and help offset the cost of the renovation, said La Crosse Center Board President Brent Smith.

“With the additional use of the center with these plans, there were going to be additional money, additional room tax, which of course we get a certain percentage of,” Smith said.

The consultants hired by the city continue to research how the numbers compare to where the city is now and how the different designs will affect La Crosse’s economy.

“What I brought up with the consultants, which was really important to me, is the impact to ordinary people as far as job creation and career opportunity,” Olson said.

She expects the expansion to open up careers for event planners and other service industry positions.

“There are a whole range of jobs where people will be able to derive incomes from people coming from out of town,” Olson said.

The La Crosse Center Board hopes to meet again in December to review the answers to those questions with the goal of bringing the information to the La Crosse Common Council as soon as possible.

“We do think that this is an important part of the consideration. When the council is making the consideration as far as which one to choose, this is an important part of it,” Smith said.

The study also reemphasizes the argument that led the La Crosse Center toward expansion three years ago.

“The real key here is how much additional business we get. To really stand still is to lose business,” Smith said.

Tribune News Service

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