Former La Crosse County Building Moves into Construction Phase

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The asbestos is gone, along with about 80 tons of walls and a jail’s worth of steel. Now the former La Crosse County Administration Center is poised to become the downtown’s newest housing addition.

Stizo Development, a partnership of Three Sixty Real Estate Solutions and Borton Construction, held a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday to celebrate completion of the demolition stage. Construction of the $15.5 million project is expected to take about 10 months.

Originally planned as student-oriented housing, the “Hub on Sixth” has morphed into a mixed-use development that will combine 113 housing units with ground-floor commercial space.

“It’s morphed into a much bigger project,” said Borton president Paul Borsheim.

Workers are preparing to add two floors that Three Sixty CEO Marvin Wanders hopes will house 18 condominiums in addition to apartments being targeted at young professionals who want to live in a growing downtown.

The two-story lofts are expected to sell for $240,000 to $350,000 and will feature full glass walls. Buyers also can modify the base units.

Wanders said he avoided building condos after his 44-unit Three Rivers Plaza project hit the market in 2006, shortly before the housing market collapse. But since starting on the administrative center, he has heard from people who wanted to live downtown but didn’t want to rent.

The remaining apartments are expected to rent for $700 to $1,200 a month and will feature patios. The building design also includes a fitness center and a rooftop basketball court as well as 26 underground parking stalls. (Additional above-ground and off-site parking will also be provided.)

The developers also amended the plans to include space for a restaurant or retail store on the first floor.

Borsheim said sustainability is a key component of the project.

Rubble from the walls was crushed for aggregate. The steel from the former jail, which took three workers a month to dismantle, has been recycled. The building will use a central hot water system and high-efficiency lighting and will include a 148-kilowatt solar system on the roof.

Stizo began removing asbestos in March. Demolition started in September and finished about two months ahead of schedule thanks to a pair of remote-controlled robots from Interstate Sawing.

“We planned five months for demo,” Wanders said. “It did it in five weeks.”

Wanders said the robots saved on labor costs and were safer than manual demolition.

“If a wall falls on a robot that’s not good,” he said. “If a wall falls on a person that’s really really bad.”

Constructed in 1965 as a courthouse and jail, the building housed county administrative offices since 1997.

In a move that stirred some controversy, the county board voted to sell the building for $250,000 rather than spend an estimated $18 million to remove asbestos and renovate it, and then purchased and remodeled the former Associated Bank building as part of a $23 million campus reorganization that was connected to the sale of a parking for the $68 million Belle Square development.

Andrea Schnick, economic development director for the city of La Crosse, said the Hub on Sixth, which will add at least $10.5 million to the city’s tax base, is the “last piece in the quadfecta of change” for the area and will bring additional residents and consumers into the downtown.

The addition of condos will require permission from the city, which has pledged to contribute $1.3 million in tax increment financing — essentially a credit against the additional $290,000 per year in property taxes the development is expected to generate.

Wanders expects city leaders will approve the change, which he expects will generate even more in tax revenue.

“This only adds value to our urban core,” he said.

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