By Sue Sveum

From the time it was first built in 1980, the La Crosse Center has been known as one of the Midwest’s premier convention and entertainment destinations. That’s no surprise considering its downtown location in La Crosse, Wisconsin, nestled along the banks of the scenic Mississippi River, within walking distance of restaurants and hotels, and a short 15-minute drive from the airport.

La Crosse’s prime location has always appealed to event planners in the tri-state area of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. The historic downtown has a unique charm, and the Mississippi and Black rivers add to the scenic beauty of the area, while providing a great place for boating or watersports. But if you liked the La Crosse Center before, you’re going to love it now.

While the convention center has always been both fashionable and functional, some recent changes and upgrades now allow it to accommodate even more events. “The discussion began seven years ago,” says Art Fahey, director of the La Crosse Center, adding that community input and careful planning went into creating a final result that was well worth it.

Completed in December 2021, the $42 million renovation and expansion has taken the convention center to new heights — both literally and figuratively. The La Crosse Center has expanded from 90,000 to 160,000 square feet — and the amount of meeting space has grown with it. Even though the space can handle large-scale events, it doesn’t exclude smaller ones. Care has been taken to create a space that can be opened up, as well as adjusted to hold multiple smaller events side by side.

The arena has undergone a full-scale upgrade and facelift with a new sound system, seating, LED lighting, HVAC, concession stands, and remodeled dressing rooms and restrooms. “We also took this opportunity to build some multipurpose suites overlooking the arena that can be closed off and used as meeting rooms,” adds Fahey.

Another major area of renovation was North Hall. The original 1980 structure was completely torn down and rebuilt with two levels and higher ceilings, radiating a more modern ambiance. The new structure expands west toward the Mississippi River, where a ballroom now overlooks both the river and the city’s iconic Riverside Park.

And event planners and attendees can’t help but be impressed with the new ballroom. According to Fahey, the room now has more of a ballroom feel — offering plenty of meeting space and a distinctive touch of elegance.

No matter how scenic the view may be, weather can still prove unpredictable in Wisconsin. Although a skywalk to the hotel was already in place, the center decided to take it a step further. “We added an interior corridor — a walkway that wraps around the entire downtown side of the arena, so people can go from one end to the other without going outside — making it much nicer!” explains Fahey.

In addition to the functional changes to the meeting and convention spaces, the renovation also included some substantial aesthetic changes. “It’s a significant upgrade,” confirms Fahey. “When guests walk into our atrium lobby with its 26-foot ceilings, they’ll feel like they’re walking into a much larger building.”

Taking sustainability into account, the upgrade also included plans for a solar field to sit atop the former ballroom space, keeping utility costs down despite the expansion. The new renovation sets the La Crosse Center apart in many new ways — making it the perfect choice for any event and that is no surprise.