Much More Than Just A New Headquarters

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CU: Community CU

Category: Facilities

Community Credit Union was looking for a way to solidify its identity and commitment to the community. What it finally settled upon was something everyone could plainly see: a headquarters in the heart of downtown.

"We wanted to be in the central business district of downtown La Crosse; this was all about location, location, location," said Chris Butler, CEO of the $105-million credit union. "This building is right between two one-way streets right on Main Street. It is absolutely the most convenient and visible location."

The new location also boasts ample parking, which is a big issue in downtown La Crosse.

But perhaps the most unique aspect of the building is its beauty, and the history behind that beauty.

"It's a 120-year-old historic building that we completely, 100% renovated," Butler described. "We gutted it from top to bottom, side to side."

Like many of the buildings in downtown La Crosse, the building had been neglected, but there was vast potential in the historical landmark. It also allowed the credit union to show its dedication to the revitalization efforts of downtown La Crosse.

"Before, we were located in Onalaska, which is the town right next door, but we really wanted a presence in La Crosse," he explained. "Downtown La Crosse is an area that is really growing. It has won awards for its beautification and revitalization efforts. People are starting to move back to downtown. We wanted to be part of that."

While some might have looked at the old building as being too costly to renovate, Butler said the credit union was able to acquire it at such a great price that even after accounting for the cost of renovation, it was far below what the credit union would have spent to build a new facility.

"And if we wanted to build something this large-the facility is actually three buildings sharing common walls-we couldn't have fit it on the plot of land we could have bought," Butler related. "There were a lot of challenges. We had to replace the heating, the electric, the plumbing. There was deterioration of the foundation walls and supporting walls. But for what we paid for it, it was a great value."

It can be tough to measure the "success" of a new headquarters, particularly when it's only been open for about a year, but Butler said there's no question the new building is a huge asset for the credit union.

"I would measure it in terms of the awareness we have gained from moving to this location," he suggested. "We've always been in the community, but there are several other credit unions here, too, so there's always been a little bit of confusion about who we are, the identity wasn't as clear.

"This made people realize that we are a substantial financial institution. It has allowed us to grow our member business services and our deposit services," he added. "Before, people didn't see us as a real player in the market. They do now."

Community CU worked with The La Macchia Group to undertake the project. La Macchia relied on photographs from the historical society to determine what the building originally looked like during the late 1800s.

Part of the building was used as a bank at one time, so the design-build firm was able to incorporate some of the teller lines and a gate from the old bank vault into the design, as well as using the original press tin ceilings and windows. Digital wall coverings depicting historical La Crosse were also used.

"What's really unique is that we've got this beautiful, historic building, and we've combined it with high-tech services," Butler observed.

Among of the state-of-the-art features installed were plasma screens for marketing, a remote drive-up 300 feet from the main office connected via underground tubes, and a remote teller system.

"We've got this historic building with hardwood floors and other historic d?cor, but we've combined that with very high-tech service," Butler suggested. "There's no teller line. There's a bank of video screens and a motion sensor indicates when a member has walked up, and a teller appears on the screen."

Those high-tech touches offer this uniquely convenient location an added level of convenience by offering faster transaction times.

Butler reports that his members love the new building. And they're not alone. The credit union has won several awards for the new building including awards from Wisconsin Builders Association, the La Crosse Historical Preservation Society and Downtown Mainstreet, Inc.

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