La Crosse banks create downtown loan pool

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 1993  | July 1993 issue

Prompted by the unveiling of La Crosse's downtown redevelopment program in late May, six local banks announced a special loan program to downtown business owners, largely for building renovations.

Together, the banks will offer $1 million in loans, from a minimum of $5,000 up to $35,000, at 1 percent below the prime rate, which in June was 6 percent. The program runs until December 31, 1994, unless the fund is exhausted before then.

The ceiling was established to involve as many businesses as possible, says Alan Wehrenberg, senior vice president of State Bank of La Crosse. If a project needs more than $35,000, Wehrenberg says, the loan program might be a supplement to a larger loan package.

But it is anticipated that most projects qualifying for loans would involve exterior and interior remodeling, parking, signage and landscaping —all important to "City Vision 2000," a $100 million downtown redevelopment plan.

"We want to improve the property in the central business district as well as create a positive visual impact for promoting a healthy business environment," says Bud Miyamoto, executive director of La Crosse Downtown Mainstreet Inc., the lead agency in the redevelopment project. Hence, the majority of loans will go to existing businesses, six of which inquired about the program within two weeks of its debut.

And business owners located in the most historic downtown area using the loan pool have the added benefit of federal and state tax credits for improving historically designated properties.

Wehrenberg says that although the six banks (others in the loan pool are Coulee State Bank, M & I Bank of Onalaska, Norwest Bank, First Bank La Crosse and First Federal Savings Bank) won't really make money from the loan pool, they can meet their CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) obligations. "This program fits just about every guideline for CRA," Wehrenberg says. CRA is a 1977 law that urges banks to help meet the credit needs of their communities.

"This is the first time in the city's history that banks have gotten together like this to work on an economic development project," Miyamoto says. "Banks get bad raps too many times."

Kathy Cobb