Plan for riverfront revitalization begins

January 11, 2019
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WABASHA — The Wabasha City Council on Tuesday took its first of many steps toward a project designed to change its riverfront, expand its biggest attraction, and improve business in the city’s downtown.

After an update on the proposed Riverfront Revitalization Project, the council voted unanimously to direct staff to start working on the pre-design phase of the project and to come back at its next meeting to authorize fronting up to $150,000 – all refundable through $8 million in state bonding – to kick off work on the project.

“This is our first tangible step,” City Administrator Chad Springer said.

The project will add docking facilities for commercial riverboats, recreational boaters, and fishing, make improvements to Big Jo Alley, and expand the footprint of the National Eagle Center.

“A big driver for our expansion is the demands placed on our building by our success,” said Rolf Thompson, executive director of the Eagle Center. “That’s our major goal, and that’s why people come here from all over the world.”

The expanded footprint for the Eagle Center would include space for the center’s live eagles, more room for its educational programs, an outdoor amphitheater for presentations and community performances, and needed space for the 25,000-piece collection of eagle-related art donated by collector and benefactor Preston Cook.

In addition to the $8 million from the state, the $18 million project will be funded through a capital campaign led by the Eagle Center. That campaign, which has started out with donations from 33 individuals and two foundations, has already raised $2.7 million, Thompson said. The campaign will continue for the next two to three years until it reaches its goal, he said.

The city is working with Milestone Real Estate Partners out of the Twin Cities to develop its plan before construction begins in 2020 or 2021.

“We’re looking for them to steer us in the right direction, because we don’t have a lot of experience in Wabasha with $8 million bonding projects,” Springer said.

In addition to the changes to the Eagle Center, there would be docking space for paddlewheelers adjacent to the Eagle Center, docking space for private boats and places for other riverfront recreation like fishing, Springer said.

Springer said there would be several opportunities during the pre-design process for the public to share ideas on the project. And, as the project progresses, the city will apply for other grants that can help fund amenities to the project as seen now.

The project will offer visitors, especially those arriving by river, a unique experience. “That’s an experience no other river town can offer at this point,” he said, referring to the Eagle Center. “Along with the expansion of the Eagle Center and the space for the paddlewheelers, this project will increase commerce in the downtown area, helping the businesses that are there and hopefully attracting more business.”

Earlier in the evening, Mayor Emily Durand was sworn into office as the first female mayor of Wabasha. Durand said she was proud to join a growing trend of female mayors in Minnesota, and looked forward to working hard for the city.

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