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The state has awarded La Crosse’s proposed transit center $7.5 million in tax credits for the housing component, considered crucial to getting the downtown development back on track, officials said Monday.

City and state leaders gathered at Jay and Third streets for the morning press conference at the former site of Best Buy Books adult bookstore, which was razed in 2005 to make way for the Grand River Station.

The $7.5 million is part of $100 million dealt out annually by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

In addition to the eight covered bus terminals, the Grand River Station will have retail space, 74 apartments and 10 condominiums catering to artists and entrepreneurs.

Affordable housing tax credits were the last piece needed get wheels rolling, Mayor Mark Johnsrud said, adding he was pleased to “stand in a vacant parking lot and say that we’re going to have a $30 million building here in the future.”

The balance of the funding is a mix of city and federal transit dollars.

Onlookers joked Monday they’ll “believe it when they see it,” as trying to make the Grand River Station a reality has taken nearly 16 years so far.

“It has been a very long road,” said Keith Carlson, director of the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility. “This past winter exemplified some of the reasons this is so important to us.”

MTU riders now transfer buses outside the La Crosse Post Office building at Fifth and State streets.

The city intends to solicit bids by the end of the month and award them in June, Carlson said. He declined to name a start date for construction.

The initial proposal called for building the center on a county-owned lot at State Street between Third and Fourth streets.

Negotiations with the county never panned out, however, nor did development agreements with Gerrard Corp. or Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates.

Two years ago, the development lost out on WHEDA dollars to the Gund Brewery Lofts.

“This time around, the transit center was the only project brought forth from the city,” said WHEDA Director Antonio Riley.

Gorman & Co. Inc., the developer on the Gund Brewery project, will handle the transit center’s housing component.

“When we review applications for projects, we look at market issues and development teams,” Riley said. “Gorman & Co. tends to be among our go-to companies. Their creative mark is seen in communities all across our state.”