Eagle center launches $27M expansion

Photo by Chris Rogers

 

National Eagle Center CEO Meg Gammage-Tucker (left), with some help from eagle Ambassador Angel and Avian Care Assistant Manager Jarod Lueck (right), announced an upcoming major remodel and expansion of the center

in Wabasha.

by CHRIS ROGERS

 

It was a big day for Wabasha and the National Eagle Center on Monday, as the center announced major upgrades to the facility and downtown. The first phase in a series of $27-million renovations to the center and the riverfront will begin this winter. Leaders for the city and eagle center said the project will enhance care of the center’s eagles, draw more people to Wabasha, and enrich the experience for center visitors.

This winter, the eagle center will be remodeled, upgrading and relocating the eagles’ quarters, expanding the center’s exhibits in its main riverfront building, and opening new galleries on Main Street. Parts of downtown will be overhauled, too, including added docking for large and small boats and a reconstruction of Big Jo Alley to provide programming and public gathering space. 

“This gift is first and foremost to enhance our eagle care,” National Eagle Center CEO Meg Gammage-Tucker said, highlighting a $1-million donation from Prairie Island Indian Community, one of several major donations helping to fund the renovations.

Consolidating the eagles in a single, central location will allow avian care staff to be easily attentive to the eagles’ needs. The birds will get a larger weathering yard and each eagle will have its own window, improving natural light and airflow, architect Bruce Cornwall of LHB Architects explained. “Each eagle now has its own private view,” he said. 

The expanded space will allow the center to include more exhibits on Native cultures and artwork by Indigenous people, while revamping all of the center’s existing exhibits, Cornwall and Gammage-Tucker said.

“To our people, eagles are more than just symbols,” Prairie Island Tribal Historic Preservation Compliance Officer Franky Jackson said. “Eagles are relatives and help remind us of our connection to the Creator.”

An expansive collection of eagle artwork and memorabilia of all kinds donated to the center by collector Preston Cook will also get more display space in the new galleries. “We are thrilled that we are the beneficiaries of this incredible contribution,” Gammage-Tucker said.

The eagle center will close for construction on October 25 and will open sometime in the spring, with announcements about the exact dates to be posted on the center’s social media accounts in the spring. 

More construction work will begin next summer to redesign a city-owned open lawn just northwest of the eagle center into an amphitheater for use by the public and the center. That new park space will tie into expanded public docks on the river. “We’re proud to be improving access to the riverfront for the public’s enjoyment,” Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand said.

In future phases, Gammage-Tucker said the center plans to restore historic buildings on Main Street and construct a large new auditorium at the corner of Pembroke Avenue and Big Jo Alley.

In addition to donations, $8 million in state bonding funds will help fund the renovations to the center and Wabasha’s riverfront. Gammage-Tucker thanked State Rep. Barb Haley (R-Red Wing) and State Sen. Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing) for helping to secure the funding. 

Requests for bonding funds are extremely competitive, Haley said. “Many communities try five, six [years], maybe a decade to get funding,” she continued. The fact that this project won over a supermajority of the state legislature is a testament to its significance to the region and the state, she said.

“It’s so exciting,” Gammage-Tucker said of seeing the long-planned project coming to fruition. “It’s been a long time coming.” Some of that work pre-dated Gammage-Tucker, who joined the eagle center in 2020. “So many people have collaborated on it. I’m kind of late to the party, and lucky to have great board members and staff,” she said.

Chris@winonapost.com