Rochester Post Bulletin
John Weiss
The National Eagle Center, a centerpiece of tourism in Wabasha since it opened nine years ago, has seen visitation steadily grow and now has plans for a two-phase expansion for more programs and to make room for a $2 million collection of eagle-related art.

The center announced today that it wants to add to its present building on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Wabasha and also use four nearby buildings on the downtown main street to house the Preston Cook Collection and have more space to work with eagles.
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The expansion would be done in two phases; the first would cost from $6 million to $8 million, according to Executive Director Rolf Thompson. The center has been talking about its need for more room for a few years. The center gets about 80,000 visitors a year from all states and many countries.

Last October, the center announced Cook is giving his collection of 20,000 items to the center. Included is an original Andy Warhol painting of a bald eagle.

The art collection would be housed in the four downtown buildings across Big Jo Alley from the center, he said.

“The Preston Cook Collection will broaden the NEC’s appeal through exploration of the role of eagles in imagery and symbolism in American history and culture,” he said. “This expansion will make the National Eagle Center the only museum of its kind dedicated to comprehensive education about our national symbol.”

Phase I of the center’s expansion will be the renovation and expansion of four buildings in Wabasha’s downtown historic district. The project will keep the four buildings’ historic characteristic yet will also show that the four are part of the center, he said.

Work on this phase could begin as soon as next spring. It will add about 15,000 square feet of gallery and exhibit space.

“We’re excited to have a prominent and enduring presence on Wabasha’s historic Main Street,” Thompson said. “We expect this investment to be a catalyst for economic growth and downtown revitalization.”

The $6 million to $8 million will come from public and private sources, he said. The center has requested $2 million in state funding as part of Wabasha’s overall request for capital bonding and anticipates launching a capital campaign for private money later this year. The city is also seeking state money for its riverfront and to build a community center.

Phase II would add 10,000 square feet to the north part of the center, he said. The center said it needs a 120-seat auditorium, or larger, for programs as well as more room to train eagles.

The center has asked the Wabasha City Council for the city-owned land but was turned down. The council said it didn’t want to limit what a developer could do with the rest of the land between the center and condos.

Thompson hopes the center and developer will work together so the center gets its expansion and the development is enhanced.