By Eric Timmons
La Crosse mayoral candidate Joe Konradt says the city will be making a mistake if it allows a proposed Ho-Chunk development at the River Point District to be exempt from property taxes.
“What kind of rent will the Indians charge compared to someone who has to pay taxes? It’s an unfair advantage,” Konradt told the La Crosse Independent. “You don’t give something away like that.”
When pressed about the fact that La Crosse is built on land taken from the Ho-Chunk people, including at the proposed River Point site, Konradt replied: “I do not know if that is original reservation land. If it’s not, then we’re not taking anything.”
Konradt, who is a retired banking executive, added, “I don’t think trotting out the minority thing is very fair…This is not about Indians, or caucasians, or minorities, this is about the future of La Crosse.”
At issue are the Ho-Chunk Nation’s plans to develop a multi-use, high-rise at the River Point District site, which is located just north of downtown La Crosse at the former Mobil Oil location. The city has plans to develop the roughly 65-acre property into a large, residential and commercial destination, backed by considerable public investment.
Tracy Littlejohn, a resident of La Crosse, responded to Konradt’s comments by saying, “Mr. Konradt may not realize that no one before himself is trotting out a minority thing. Collaborations with the Ho-Chunk Nation are not a minority group to a municipality; they are between two governmental entities. If he were to look into the impacts of having the Ho-Chunk Nation do business in other places, he would see that those communities benefit. To assume the Nation would not reinvest in some manner to the community and be a good neighbor is ridiculous.”
Littlejohn added: “Mr. Konradt’s lack of historical knowledge of this area and particularly the area in question, shows he did not take the time to research before his statements and he may not have the open-mindedness needed for a mayor when working with other entities, be they organizations or other governments, which would be a detriment to our city.”
The Ho-Chunk nation would use the proposed high-rise to develop commercial office and retail space on the first floor, space for a regional office of the Ho-Chunk Nation along with youth services and meeting space on the second floor, apartments for rent on the next three or four floors, and condominiums for sale on the top floor.
Mayor Tim Kabat proposed making the Ho-Chunk development a tax-exempt parcel, but Konradt said Sunday that would be “wrong.”
“He doesn’t seem to understand what things cost, he just has these idealistic ideas about doing things without worrying about that and we can’t afford that anymore,” Konradt said about Kabat’s proposal.
Konradt said the city was behaving more like a charity than a business and that had to stop, as in his view the tax burden on La Crosse residents is far too high. He said he would oppose the city giving land for free to anyone, whether it was the Ho-Chunk Nation, Kwik Trip, or the La Crosse Independent.
“This is about the rights of the taxpayers of the City of La Crosse without regard to their ethnic origin,” Konradt said. “Taxpayers have rights too.”
Although the Ho-Chunk may be the only developer at River Point exempt from property taxes, any other developers who choose to build at the site will benefit from public incentives in one form or another. The site is located in an Opportunity Zone, which means developers can “receive special tax incentives including temporary tax deferral, step-up in basis and permanent exclusion from taxable income of capital gains,” according to the city.
Konradt is one of 10 candidates for mayor running in the February 16 primary election to replace Kabat, who is stepping down from the position.
The Ho-Chunk plan for the development at the River Point site is still at a tentative stage, with funding yet to be secured and approval from the Ho-Chunk legislature pending (more information here).
“We will be fulfilling the need for housing in the La Crosse area, as well as providing a meeting place and Youth Services for our tribal members and children,” a statement from Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle said. “The Three Rivers House in La Crosse has been our regional office for many years and perhaps now would be a good time to provide a new, exciting facility for our people.”
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Top image shows a drawing of the proposed River Point District in La Crosse. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.