A small group of people with some strong opinions about the La Crosse Center expansion expressed their thoughts at a public input session on Wednesday night.
The conversation revolved around the conceptual design of the project that includes a ballroom and balcony extending over Front Street into Riverside Park. The biggest question in the room was a question of balance--the balance between what is to gain from the current design of the La Crosse Center expansion up against what there is to lose in Riverside Park.
Members of the La Crosse Center Board with an architect on the project walked those seated in the Patrick Zielke Suite of the La Crosse Center through the conceptual design before asking for public comments, questions, and suggestions.
One of the top concerns of the night was aesthetics. Many in attendance called for a more natural use of materials to better blend the expansion in with the ambiance of the park and the historic riverfront.
"Since this building is kind of a hard edge box with more of a more modern style, I think that there's ways of softening that," said Mike Martino, La Crosse resident. "So, one of the suggestions I had too was to create some kind of greenery on the wall, on the whole facade."
This was the third public input meeting for the La Crosse Center expansion along with a number of discussions between the La Crosse Center Board and the Parks Board.
Brent Smith, Chair of the La Crosse Center Board, says the goal is to remain transparent through the project to make sure it is done right.
"It's a public project. This is a lot of money. We've spent a lot of time getting public input, getting experts input, and doing a lot of things to get to this point," Smith said. "It seems like a long time, but this is kind of project that comes every 25 or 30 years."
Smith says despite four and a half years of conversation, the project is still in the early stages.
He hopes to see the La Crosse Center Board bring conceptual design before City Council for approval in June. From there, the La Crosse Center Board would still need to work with the architects to come up with a final design that will also need City Council approval.
If the timeline continues as planned, construction could start in phases by the end of this year with the project complete by spring 2020.
At Wednesday night's input session, nobody argued about the need for an expansion. Everyone acknowledged that the La Crosse Center needs to grow in order to stay competitive and bring in more events.