By Leah Call —
If you don’t look out for your own backyard, who will? In La Crosse, it’s the neighborhood associations that look out for the collective needs of backyards throughout the city. They work to improve streets, sidewalks, parks and safety, while engaging residents to work together for a strong, vibrant community.
“The neighborhood associations are an integral part of our quality of life here in La Crosse and they have been for many, many years,” says La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat. “They really are all about community, getting people together and providing opportunities not only for fellowship, but for specific projects that they are working on to make their part of the city better.”
The city of La Crosse has identified boundaries for 11 neighborhoods as well as one developing neighborhood and several recommended neighborhoods. While the city-drawn boundaries have expanded and evolved over the years, neighborhoods continue to be their own best advocates and play an important role in contributing to the livability of La Crosse.
Help for Neighborhoods
Not all neighborhoods in La Crosse have an association. To be recognized by the city, a neighborhood association must have goals and objectives, hold at least two meetings a year, have elected officers and make an effort to notify all residents within the neighborhood boundary area. The city planning department has historically worked with recognized neighborhoods on improvement plans and capital expenditure decisions.
The planning department is also a great resource for both established and emerging neighborhood associations. Another resource is La Crosse Neighborhoods, Inc. (LCNI).
LCNI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation formed three years ago to advocate for La Crosse neighborhoods and residents. LCNI enables neighborhoods to have more independence and to collaborate and share resources.
“We started out with just two neighborhoods—Bluffside and Grandview Emerson—and we have been adding associations as they’re willing and interested,” says La Crosse Neighborhoods, Inc. President Jacob Sciammas.
Six La Crosse neighborhood associations are currently part of LCNI: Bluffside, Grandview Emerson, Hintgen, Logan Northside, Powell Poage Hamilton and the Lower Northside Depot.
“LCNI is there to serve all of the associations and neighborhood groups,” adds Sciammas. “That can be single activities, single events, single fundraisers, or it can be more broad to serve the whole neighborhood association for their regular activities and events.”
LCNI does not charge a fee to its member associations, but it does take voluntary contributions. Initially funded by a donation and later a grant, LCNI has been able to operate using those initial funds for the past three years. As members of LCNI, neighborhoods have legal and tax-exempt status, as well as liability insurance coverage.
LCNI receives no city funds. Sciammas stresses the importance of maintaining independence from city government in order to best advocate for the interests of the neighborhoods. “You really want that distinction, for us to be an independent group. We want to work with the city, to partner with the city, but we wouldn’t want to be dependent on the city. We are an independent group.”
If you spot one of these artistically painted rain barrels in La Crosse, you can thank the Washburn Neighborhood Association. Washburn, along with the La Crosse Public Library and Downtown Mainstreet, Inc., sponsored a rain barrel painting contest that ended Feb. 28, 2018. Fourteen 55-gallon plastic barrels were colorfully repurposed and auctioned off to attendees of the 14th annual Garden Expo. The contest was intended to promote the use of rain barrels and rain gardens as a way to conserve water and reduce run off. This is just one of numerous activities and events facilitated by the city’s neighborhood associations.
Logan Northside Neighborhood Association
“The major accomplishment of a neighborhood association is that you truly do have a say in what happens in your neighborhood, in what happens in your city,” says Scott Neumeister, chair of the Logan Northside Neighborhood Association (LNNA).
LNNA is one of two north side neighborhoods that are part of La Crosse Neighborhoods, Inc. LNNA recently expanded to include the area between Clinton Street and I-90. “We wanted to get more people involved,” says Neumeister, who expects the group will split into two associations sometime in the near future because of its large size.
“We gather monthly and talk about issues and opportunities,” explains Neumeister.
The group meets at Trinity Lutheran Church at 1010 Sill St. at 6 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month. Neumeister says the meetings are typically well-attended. “We are one of the best-attended neighborhood groups. We generally have a pretty good turnout.”
While the meetings draw a fair amount of interest, Neumeister would like to see even more neighborhood participation. That’s a challenge felt by all the La Crosse neighborhood groups. “Getting people involved is our biggest hurdle. It’s a commitment, but it’s well worth it. Getting involved with your neighborhood association is a great opportunity to help grow your neighborhood, to keep your neighborhood safer.”
North side pride is something Neumeister feels is a unique quality of his neighborhood. “I think we are a pretty tight group. That is probably true of many of the neighborhoods, but we have a lot of longstanding residents here,” he explains.
“It’s a shame that not everyone knows about the neighborhood associations, because they have a lot of say in what the city does,” he reiterates. “The mayor and the council have done a great job of working with the neighborhood associations, helping to determine what goes down in the neighborhood. The more people that we have involved in the associations, the better it is for all the residents of La Crosse, whether you’re north side, south side, wherever you may be.”
In addition to identifying needed improvements, the neighborhood association facilitates activities and events that bring residents together. Chicken Qs, an annual neighborhood cleanup day, and an annual Northside Community Neighborhood Celebration are among LNNA’s major events.
The Northside Community Neighborhood Celebration, held each August at the Trinity Lutheran Church parking lot, includes games, music, free food and family fun. “It’s neighbors meeting neighbors. That’s the whole goal of it,” says Neumeister. “We have some people who are struggling, and it’s a chance to get some good food.”
To help those who are struggling, LNNA is looking to create a free food bank in the neighborhood. “So it will always be there for people that need it,” says Neumeister. “It really is about caring for your neighbors.”
LNNA was one of two neighborhoods selected by the city of La Crosse to receive $375,000 of the city’s Capital Improvement Program funds in 2017. “We would like more lighting on George Street, and we want more lighting around Logan Middle School,” says Neumeister. “And we want to beautify our neighborhood more.”
About five years ago, the city began committing Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funds to improvement projects specifically identified by the neighborhood associations. “We have a very competitive capital budget process, and we have limits on what we are able to do,” notes Mayor Kabat. “I viewed the inclusion of some monies that go to two neighborhood associations each year as a way to not only get more improvements done, but to also engage those neighborhood groups and those neighbors to learn more about the city government and the capital budget process.”
Since the program’s creation, CIP awards have been spread out geographically throughout the city. There are few limitations on how the funds can be spent, though they cannot go toward studies or paying staff. Improvement projects might include street repair, lighting or park improvements. The neighborhood associations prioritize a list of improvement projects based on input from residents. “That list is then adopted by the city council, and then city staff work with the neighbors to get it implemented,” explains Mayor Kabat.
Weigent Hogan Neighborhood Association
The Weigent Hogan Neighborhood Association (WHNA) was also awarded CIP funds for improvement projects in 2018. The association is in the process of identifying how the neighborhood would like to use the funds. “We put a questionnaire out and came up with 187 ideas,” says WHNA President Chuck Welch. “We are in the process of narrowing that down.”
The association’s executive board will vote in May on the final list to submit to the city.
While submittal of 187 ideas is a sizable response to the questionnaire, WHNA would like to see greater neighborhood participation at association meetings and events. “As someone who has been doing this for decades, you always want more,” says Welch. “It would be great if every single person in the neighborhood decided to show up at a meeting, but you meet people where you can. A lot of that is through social media, a lot of that is through email newsletters, some people might stop you on the street. Not everybody can come to a meeting on a Monday night, and we realize that.”
Welch has lived in La Crosse for just five years. How did he get involved with his neighborhood association? He went to a meeting. “I found out they were having a meeting, and I wanted to know what decisions they were making about the neighborhood where I lived. If you live in a neighborhood and there is an association, go to a meeting, get involved.”
The Weigent Hogan neighborhood’s biggest challenge stems from its location. “We are right in the center of everything … so traffic is a big deal for us.”
But being in the middle of everything has its advantages. “Whether you work at Gundersen or Mayo or the university or Trane, we are right in the center of it all, so we are a good place to live.”
Washburn Neighborhood Association
Just west of the Weigent Hogan neighborhood is the Washburn neighborhood. Incorporated in 2001, it is one of the city’s oldest and most active associations. The Washburn neighborhood is home to the Washburn Community Garden on the 900 block of Division Street. The garden is a collaborative effort between Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare and the Washburn Neighborhood Association. Community members can rent garden plots for just $30. That $30 is donated to St. Clare Health Mission, and a portion of the harvest is donated to WAFER to help families in need.
The Washburn Neighborhood Association is currently working to establish a freestanding food pantry, “where people who have some sort of need can grab something as they need it, and people can drop things off as they are able,” explains Cassie Woodward, association vice chair.
The neighborhood recently completed street lighting projects on Fifth and Seventh streets and will soon begin another lighting project on Market Street.
“We have a lot going on,” says Woodward. “But there’s always more we can do.”
Making connections is a goal of this altruistic neighborhood. Social events include the annual Washburn Neighborhood Garden Expo held in March, as well as an annual night out. The group has a table at Viterbo’s welcome fair to encourage students to participate in the neighborhood association. “They [students] are here for a few years, and the more we can connect with each other, the better relationships we can have,” says Woodward.
The Washburn neighborhood is within walking distance of downtown and is home to the public library and the YMCA. In addition to a large student rental population, Woodward notes, “We are seeing more families move back into the neighborhood, and that is exciting.”
The Washburn Neighborhood Association struggles to get the level of participation it would like from its renter population. “I think there is a perception that neighborhood associations are only for homeowners, but that’s not true,” says Woodward. “Neighborhood associations are for everyone in the neighborhood: renters, homeowners, business owners.”
The association strives to boost participation on all fronts by increasing awareness of meetings and events, says Woodward. “Because the more membership we have, the more hands we have, the more things we can do for the neighborhood.”
While La Crosse neighborhoods each have their own unique character, they share many of the same challenges and goals. They feel the impact of issues of neighboring neighborhoods. “We know we can’t just look out for our own needs,” says LCNI’s Sciammas, a member of his neighborhood association, Grandview Emerson. “We also have to look out for neighboring associations and to some degree the larger city of La Crosse.
“We all want to improve housing throughout the city, to get more people to live in the city, to grow our tax base, make our neighborhoods more attractive to live in.”
Sciammas encourages people to get involved in their neighborhood associations. “I think some people associate neighborhood associations with legislation and improvements, but really the best stuff with neighborhood associations has historically been events, getting people in contact with one another, getting to know one another.”
If you want to get involved in your neighborhood association, check out LCNI’s website at www.lacrosseneighborhoods.org or the city planning department website’s neighborhoods page at www.cityoflacrosse.org/planning/neighborhoods. Most associations also post meeting information on Facebook. Many of the La Crosse neighborhood meetings and events are also listed at www.nextdoor.com.
Mayor Kabat applauds those who do take the time to get involved in their neighborhood associations. “People are so busy with work and kids and everything else, to have people that give up time and talent to volunteer for neighborhood associations to make the quality of life better for everyone else is great. It is something that makes La Crosse a strong community.”
Sciammas urges neighborhoods in and outside of La Crosse who do not have neighborhood associations to start one. “There are a lot of areas in the city that don’t have neighborhood associations. It’s a pretty simple process to start one. LCNI can be a resource for folks considering doing that.”
La Crosse Neighborhood Association Events 2018
Annual Neighborhood Events:
SPRING Into Your Neighborhood—citywide May events (listed below): Getting out into the neighborhoods and welcoming new and returning neighbors
FALL in Love with Your Neighborhood—family social at Copeland Park in October: Celebrating all of our neighborhoods and recognizing those who make a difference
- Neighborhood Rummage Sales—May 19
- Spring Fling at Bluffview Park Shelter,
8 a.m.—May 19
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Congregational Church, 6 p.m.—May 21
Grandview Emerson (GENA)
- Neighborhood Rummage Sales—May 19
- Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt, Business Sales and Rambles—May 19-27
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Emerson Elementary School L.M.C.,
6:30 p.m.—May 15
Weigent Hogan (WHNA)
- Neighborhood Rummage Sales—May 19
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Building, 6:30 p.m.—May 14
Powell Poage Hamilton (PPH)
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Week Event: Powell Park Grand Opening & Family Fun Night, 4:30-6 p.m.—May 9
- Neighborhood Rummage Sales—May 19
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at the Southside Neighborhood Center, 6:45 p.m.—May 16
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Trinity Lutheran Church, 6 p.m.—May 22
- CDBG Week Event: Historic Walking Tour of 10th and Cass Homes—May 8
- CDBG Week Event: Small Business Mixer at Le Chateau—May 10
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at St. Paul’s Lutheran Fellowship Hall, 6 p.m.—May 22
Lower Northside and Depot
- Annual Meet & Greet at Black River Beach Community Center, 7 p.m.—April 25
- CDBG Week Event: Kane Street Garden Tour and Children’s Planting—May 12
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Black River Beach Community Center, 6:30 p.m.—May 23
- ReNew Neighborhood Cleanup and Improvement Projects, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.—Every Saturday in June
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Good Shepherd Lutheran Mattes Center, 6:30 p.m.—May 21
Holy Trinity Longfellow
- New & Returning Neighbors Meeting at Faith United Methodist Church, 6 p.m.—May 21
Springbrook Clayton Johnson
- New & Returning Neighbors Spring Meeting at Springbrook Park Shelter—TBA