National Eagle Center ready for its upgrade

Brian Todd, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.
·3 min read

Apr. 8—WABASHA — A strategy to split the state's funding for the renovation and expansion of the National Eagle Center is paying off as the Wabasha landmark should begins the first phase of construction later this year.

Last May, the Eagle Center and city of Wabasha took a proposal to the Legislature to have $8 million in approved bonding funds split into two parts because the Eagle Center needed more time to raise funds for the project because of the economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Tuesday night, Randy Eggenberger, chairman of the National Eagle Center's board of directors, and Meg Gammage-Tucker, CEO of the eagle center, updated the Wabasha City Council on the plans and a gave timeline for the renovation and expansion. Construction on the interior of several building will happen during the winter of 2021-2022, followed by outdoor projects beginning in spring 2022 that should be completed by later that fall.

"We went back to state and said if we can do phase I, can we get some of the funds," Gammage-Tucker said. "We have access to $4 million of the $8 million. We're committing to $1.8 million, but that all gets phase I done. We renovate (two of the four buildings on) Main Street, we expand the center, we have large-vessel dockage, and upgrade the public space."

Gammage-Tucker said the work is not just an investment in the Eagle Center, it's an investment in Wabasha with the public space adjacent to the north of the current riverside building getting reshaped as an amphitheater with patio areas for food vendors, and a dock that will accommodate paddlewheel riverboats to stop in Wabasha and unload passengers directly into the downtown area.

Eggenberger said the dock will be 200 feet long, allowing passengers to disembark from boats right into that outdoor space.

Meanwhile, the current Eagle Center building will be remodeled with the viewing area, or mews, for the live eagles getting transformed into a space to hold three eagles at a time, and the addition of mews behind the scenes where eagles can take a break from public encounters, rest and be cared for by staff.

The Eagle Center will be able to accommodate more birds in the future, Gammage-Tucker said, and she's already on the lookout with staff for new birds to join the Eagle Center as Eagle Ambassadors.

The upstairs of the main building will be renovated to function as gallery space, with part of the space being dedicated to a historical interpretation of what eagles mean to the Native Americans who have lived in the area for centuries. Eggenberger said the Eagle Center has been working with representatives from the Mdewakanton tribe at Prairie Island near Red Wing.

The gallery space will then move onto the Preston Cook Collection, with a portion of the 20,000-plus piece collection being shown in the main building, and more being shown in space across Big Joe Alley in buildings being renovated on Main Street., Eggenberger said.

In total, the Eagle Center purchased four historic buildings on Main Street where the backs of those buildings face Big Joe Alley and the current riverside Eagle Center building. Eventually, all four of those buildings will be renovated, two of them as part of first constructon phase.

"I'm really pleased with the direction this went," said Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand. "Phase I is a really big deal, and it gets those public elements completed as soon as possible so people can enjoy it."