Created by a public-private partnership in 1990, Downtown Mainstreet Inc. of La Crosse spearheaded the creation of the city's first comprehensive master plan for its downtown in order to address perceived economic deterioration of the city’s historic district. Today, La Crosse is one of the largest National Register Commercial Historic Districts in Wisconsin, containing 96 contributing buildings. Early preservation efforts led to the completion of a $2.9 million river levee project to protect downtown from Mississippi River flooding. In addition to serving a critical purpose, the project features a riverwalk, recreational boat docking facility, wayfinding signage and downtown streetscaping initiatives. In its first 12 years as a program, downtown gained 170 new residential units. More than 100 building and storefront façade restorations have been undertaken, resulting in an increase of $40 million in assessed property values. With the recruitment of major high-tech corporations such as Firstlogic and CenturyTel's Midwest regional headquarters, employment is now at an all-time high, even surpassing employment at the height of the prosperous retail years. Today, downtown La Crosse is known for its arts scene (including a strong public art program and state-of-the-art Weber Center for the Performing Arts), as well as a commitment to downtown residential development (the Tour of Upper Living regularly sells out). Last year the downtown welcomed $12 million in private investment. This pales in comparison to the $191 million in projects currently under way, which are expected to add nearly 400 new hotel rooms, 246 residential units, and 145,000 new square feet of commercial space and generate more than $22 million in additional consumer activity.
WEDC contributed $10,000 toward a $40,000 feasibility study and plan to redevelop 30 acres of vacant former industrial properties located along the river and adjacent to downtown. As a result of the plan, title issues were addressed, environmental studies were completed, the city invested $750,000 to acquire 10 of the 16 acres, and a developer RFP was created which will be issued once cleanup is complete. The city is also pursuing the purchase of strategic properties in the study area.
WEDC contributed $6,225 in a Site Assessment Grant for the former Zander Creamery property, which had been vacant for more than a decade. The information from the assessment allowed for the successful redevelopment of the site, which was awarded an additional $288,130 in Brownfields Grant funding from WEDC for remediation costs (primarily cleanup of soil contaminated with arsenic, lead and petroleum) as part of the project. The final project resulted in a three-story, 45-unit apartment building, and represented $4.6 million in private investment, with additional city investment of $1.1 million.