July 11, 2008

La Crosse Common Council Condemns Collins’ Billboard

By Samantha Marcus, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 11--The La Crosse Common Council on Thursday voted to seize a billboard on Copeland Avenue after negotiations between a private developer and sign company proved futile.

The council had been reluctant to condemn the sign, owned by Collins Outdoor Advertising, to make way for a 92-room extended stay hotel just north of downtown La Crosse and Three Rivers Plaza. "It's obviously been a long, difficult negotiation," hotel developer Paul Borsheim said after the 9-6 vote. "It's been very difficult for both sides, but we are pleased with the outcome tonight."

Borsheim said the group plans to start construction within 30 to 60 days and would like to see the sign come down by Nov. 1.

"This is probably one of the toughest votes I have ever made as a council member, school board member and county board member," said council member Audrey Kader.

Council member Jim Bloedorn, who opposed condemnation, said he wasn't willing to take private property for the benefit of a private developer.

"I hate billboards. But more than hating billboards I strongly believe in individual property rights," he said. "It's a private transaction, the city doesn't need to be involved in it."

The council on two occasions directed NSD Hotel Associates and Collins to hash out the dispute, but Collins refused the sell the 14-by-48 foot sign.

The camps met again Wednesday at the council's behest, where NSD raised its lump-sum offer for the billboard and property easement from $100,000 to $120,000.

Representatives of the company said the revised offer still severely undervalued the sign and easement.

NSD also offered to pay the profit on the sign over the life of the hotel or to lease a "phantom" billboard over the life of the hotel. Collins offered to raise the sign above the hotel's fourth and highest level.

Collins rejected all offers and declined to counteroffer.

"For the Collins, this has never been about the money. It is about their right to protect the constitutional property rights," attorney Jeff George wrote. "The Collins family has never wanted to sell this billboard. They feel that the city is violating their constitutional and legal rights by trying to take it from them for the benefit of another private developer."

The company has vowed to challenge the condemnation in court.

Samantha Marcus can be reached at (608) 791-8220 or [email protected]


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