La Crosse, Wisconsin
Location: On the Wisconsin border with Minnesota, along the Mississippi River
Access: Interstate 90, Amtrak, La Crosse Regional Airport, Rochester International Airport, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport
Major Meeting Spaces: Radisson Hotel La Crosse, Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center
Hotel Rooms: 2,500
Off-Site Venues: Court Above Main, Pump House Regional Arts Center, Weber Center for the Performing Arts, Celebrations on the River, Western Technical College — Lunda Center
Explore La Crosse
Sometimes, it really does “take a village” — or several — to work as a team for the good of all.
That’s exactly the situation on Wisconsin’s border with Minnesota. Six municipalities make up the La Crosse Region: Holmen, La Crescent, La Crosse, Onalaska, the town of Campbell and West Salem. All pull together to provide meetings attendees and leisure travelers pure Wisconsin hospitality.
Voted most scenic view in the state by Wisconsin Trails readers, Grandad Bluff, site of annual New Year’s Eve fireworks and a great hiking draw, keeps watch over the largest municipality, La Crosse, from 600 feet above. With the mighty Mississippi, Black and La Crosse rivers converging here and four-season outdoor opportunities on land and water, visitors can paddle the backwaters in a canoe or kayak; fish for some 119 species; take an up-close peek into Wisconsin’s largest Amish community; admire the flora and fauna in a National Wildlife Area; and hike, bike, ski cross-country or zoom downhill on miles of trails.
First visited by French fur traders, La Crosse was named for a game early Native Americans played with crossed sticks that resembled a bishop’s crozier, or “la crosse” in French. The town’s economy was built on steamboats, lumber mills, railroads and brewing.
These days, three colleges contribute to its reputation as a regional technology and medical hub. Its walkable downtown tempts the palate with more than 100 restaurant and dining options. Local breweries keep the handcrafted beer history alive.
The area’s premier gathering spot, the La Crosse Center, is undergoing a total $42 million renovation, set for completion this fall. Originally constructed in 1980, the facility nearly doubled in size in the spring of 2000, and this year’s makeover will up the region’s attractiveness to planners big-time.
“From a meetings and conventions perspective, we’re definitely changing our footprint,” said Jay Fanta, director of convention sales for Explore La Crosse. “We’re no longer just a state facility, but we’re getting a lot of interest from the Midwest meetings market, thanks to our border location. Now we can draw from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. We’re a kind of diamond in the rough.”
La Crosse Center
With completion scheduled for this fall, the “new” La Crosse Center will offer nearly 150,000 square feet of meeting space on the banks of the Mississippi River. Two grand halls total 6,000 square feet, as does a ballroom with spectacular views of this storied waterway. Three boardrooms and a conference room are attached. From a new rooftop terrace, attendees can see the river and downtown.
“In the past, the center didn’t really showcase the river,” said Fanta. “Visitors will have a broader scope of the area’s beauty.”
Green Energy Initiatives include solar paneling and energy-efficient lighting, and the center’s HVAC will appeal to carbon footprint-conscious planners.
Adjacent to the La Crosse Center, the 169-guest room Radisson Hotel La Crosse shares those Mississippi River views and adds its own 11,500 square feet of meeting space for up to 400 guests, who can walk downtown to Riverside Park for a meeting break stroll, restaurants and nightlife. Nearby, 149 guests can board a La Crosse Queen stern-wheeler for a dinner cruise.
For intimate corporate retreats, up to eight participants can snow tube, snowshoe, hike, play disc golf, pet llamas and eat primarily organic meals at the Justin Trails Bed and Breakfast, 30 miles from La Crosse. A beautifully renovated 1919 barn seats 200, and a studio, 75.
Breweries and Wineries
According to the Pearl Street Brewery, La Crosse has been a beer town since its settlement days 160 years ago. A plethora of beer establishments substantiates this. Suds are king at this local watering hole, where up to 150 can enjoy beer flights, team-building games and brewery tours.
Wine aficionados, be they attendees or spouses, can explore the Driftless Wine and Cheese Trail that meanders through the gorgeous Driftless Area of Wisconsin, known for steep, forested ridges, river valleys, waterfalls and trout streams. Overlooking the Wisconsin River, the Wollersheim Winery, created in the 1840s, offers group tours for 20 to 60 guests.
For more than a century, five generations of the Dahl family have sold cars in La Crosse. The Dahl Auto Museum is the family’s gift back to the community. It features the history of the U.S. automobile told through the eyes of the Ford Motor Company, with an exceptional collection of historic cars, including Model Ts, and a cool tribute to drive-in theaters.
All Glazed Up takes teambuilding to a new level. Private parties can paint canvas and pottery, craft mosaics or revisit the 1960s by tie-dying, all while sipping beer, wine or champagne.