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An old river town with new tricks


On the Mississippi River, LaCrosse is an old town with some new tricks that have grabbed the notice of national media. In June, the city was named one of the “10 Best Places to Live 2009,” by U.S. News and World Report.

“We’re an old river town that’s reinvented itself,” said Dave Clements, executive director of the LaCrosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our convention center and hotel are right on the water, another hotel is right across the park from the river, two more are a block away, and our Riverwalk runs the length of downtown. Attendees tell us all the time that we have the most beautiful downtown in the state.”

The 100,000-square-foot LaCrosse Center overlooks the Riverwalk, and its 6,000-square-foot ballroom and second-floor terrace have water views. The center’s arena can seat from 2,100 to 8,000. Its 60-foot ceilings allowed a recent convention of Wisconsin firefighters room to display two fire trucks with ladders raised.

Linked to the center by an enclosed skyway is the 169-guest-room Radisson Hotel LaCrosse, with 10,500 square feet of meeting space, a business center to open in January and a full-service restaurant that uses local products.

“From our riverside dining room, you can watch eagles and see the Island Girl cruise boat, paddle wheelers and barge traffic go by,” said Terri Pinter, director of sales. “Guests from all over the world are intrigued by the Mississippi. Last winter, I saw a group of Japanese businessmen having their pictures taken in front of the river as it was snowing.”

The center is the meeting space of choice for Faye Jones, executive director of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She has planned a conference in LaCrosse for 15 years for the farmers her education outreach organization serves in the Midwest.

“The center met our diverse needs,” she said. “It had space enough this past winter for our 2,651 attendees in a large meeting, plus 10 workshop rooms and a dining hall. About half our attendees stayed in hotels right downtown while the rest stayed within a few miles. As parking in LaCrosse is free, it was easy for those who had to drive, and they all loved watching those gorgeous bald eagles that hang out on the Mississippi.”

With green areas for outdoor receptions, 23 downtown restaurants — some with water views — and the Riverwalk along the river, LaCrosse adds a natural dimension to meetings and conventions.

Spouses can have a cone from the Pearl Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, stroll past lumber barons’ homes in the historic district, cruise the river or take a tour of nearby Amish country.

Just up the Riverwalk, the elegant Waterfront Restaurant and Tavern has added a river-view meeting room for 400, and Western Technical College this fall opened the Lunda Center, a training facility with 8,000 square feet of high-tech meeting space.

(800) 658-9424


Next in the Wisconsin Meeting Guide >> "String of towns sum up to savings"