WABASHA — The National Eagle Center is ready to go beyond its current confines.

In fact, the Wabasha attraction plans to "Soar Beyond" the building that has been its home since 2007, with a new $27 million expansion being kicked off this fall.

Phase one of the project includes renovation of the Eagle Center's riverside building, two of four Main Street buildings, adding a new large-vessel boat dock, making upgrades to Big Joe Alley – the street between the main Eagle Center building and the Main Street buildings – and the open space to the north of the riverside building, adding community space and an amphitheater.

Eventually, the expansion and renovation plan will add more classroom and exhibit space, especially for the Preston Cook collection and eagle art from local artists, and more room to better care for an increasing number of live eagles.

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Phase two will include a large indoor auditorium and a larger entrance for the building.

National Eagle Center CEO Meg Gammage-Tucker said in addition to kicking off the phase one construction on Monday, the Eagle Center wanted to debut its "Soar Beyond" motto that she hopes will embody the next stage of the Eagle Center.

Gammage-Tucker said the Eagle Center will close its doors on Oct. 25 to accommodate the construction inside the building, and will reopen in the spring with a renovated space and new experience. In the meantime, the Eagle Center will still offer tours – twice as many as have been offered in the past – to view eagles in their habitats and offer online programming that will educate virtual visitors.

Among Monday's announcements was a call out to the Prairie Island Indian Community, which donated $1 million to the project.

"This gift is first and foremost to ensure our eagles have the care and respect they so deserve," she said. "It will also help the center evolve into an internationally recognized museum with quality exhibitions and programs."

Wabasha Mayor Emily Durand said the project has had many "mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters" who have donated to the project, helped guide its plans and made the expansion happen.

"We're proud to be improving access to our river park for the public enjoyment," Durand said. She talked about taking her daughter along when local leaders lobby the Minnesota Legislature for the project to get state bonding dollars. The lesson, she said, was that "this is not a local project. This is the National Eagle Center here in Wabasha Minnesota. Indeed it is our National Eagle Center because it is the world's -- and we are very fortunate in that.

Franky Jackson, Prairie Island Tribal historic preservation compliance officer, said the Eagle Center helps protect eagles – a responsibility both the tribe and the organization take seriously – and share the story about the connection between "these majestic birds and our First Nations."

Jarod Lueck, with the National Eagle Center, holds one of the center's bald eagles ambassadors during an event to kick off phase one of a $27 million expansion project and unveil new branding at the National Eagle Center Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Wabasha. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
Jarod Lueck, with the National Eagle Center, holds one of the center's bald eagles ambassadors during an event to kick off phase one of a $27 million expansion project and unveil new branding at the National Eagle Center Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Wabasha. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

"To our people, eagles are more than just symbols," Jackson said. "Eagles are relatives and serve as messengers to the creator."

The Eagle Center helps the tribe with the federal process of collecting eagle feathers, he said. And the expanded Eagle Center will include space for American Indian artists and culturally relevant exhibits to redefine the experience of guests.

"We are incredibly fortunate to have a facility that offers human stewardship of injured birds and look forward to working with the center to continue building on those services," Jackson said.