WEDC investment helps create Riverside Park event venue

LA CROSSE, WI. AUG. 25, 2022 –The City of La Crosse is receiving a $250,000 state grant to help redevelop the former fish lab building in Riverside Park into an event venue with an outdoor terrace and lodging units. Rehabilitating this building will capitalize on its location in the bustling park while offering an attractive community gathering spot.

The Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) will support the development of Hatchery. On the main level will be a space for community members and businesses to host small events such as pop-up shops, boutiques, art shows, weddings and fundraisers. The garage will become an outdoor patio with drink service, food trucks and views of the La Crosse and Mississippi rivers. Upstairs, six lodging units will accommodate event guests and tourists alike.

“Hatchery has the potential to be a popular community center in the heart of downtown La Crosse,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s leading economic development organization. “It’s great to see the city and the developers work together to rehabilitate and repurpose such a historic and well-located building.”

“If we were going to sell the building, we could have in about a day, but that’s not something the department or the city of La Crosse wanted to do,” said Jim Flottmeyer, La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department project specialist. “We wanted to keep it as part of the park and find a partner to enhance the building and make it an asset.”

Tiffany Smith and Marty Walleser, owners of Hatchery LLC, stepped in and agreed to a 20-year lease with the City of La Crosse, allowing them to rehabilitate the building and open Hatchery.

“We are grateful and eager for the opportunity to envision, create and lead a space that will benefit Riverside Park visitors and the greater La Crosse community,” Smith and Walleser wrote in their project proposal.

Formerly a U.S. Fish Control Lab, which rescued and redistributed fish from overflowed areas of the Mississippi River, the building has fallen into disrepair while being mostly inaccessible in recent years. Hatchery will honor the building’s storied history with a mural, wall photographs and reclaimed park fixtures, among other details.

“We will host tourist information and local art that is available for purchase,” Smith and Walleser wrote. “We will welcome and embrace ways to use this high-profile location to grow our community and tell our history.”

Overall, Hatchery will pay homage to the City’s past and present, serving as a cultural center in its prominent, Riverside Park location. It will benefit La Crosse economically, as well, because the city leased the building instead of selling it.

“It gives us the opportunity, through their rent payments, to maintain the park and maybe make some additions as needed,” Flottmeyer said.

“Riverside Park is a treasure for the City of La Crosse as well as the countless visitors from the Coulee Region and beyond who come to enjoy it alongside the Mississippi River,” said state Sen. Brad Pfaff. “Consistent investments in downtown La Crosse will ensure Riverside Park and main street businesses continue to thrive.”

WEDC’s Community Development Investment Grant Program supports community development and redevelopment efforts, primarily in downtown areas. The matching grants are awarded based on the ability of applicants to demonstrate the economic impact of the proposed project, including public and private partnership development, financial need, and use of sustainable downtown development practices.

From the program’s inception in 2013 through March 2022, WEDC has awarded nearly $34.8 million in CDI Grants to 166 communities for projects expected to generate more than $517 million in capital investments statewide.