The Wadena Area Chamber of Commerce has moved to a new location in The Depot building within Burlington Northern Park.
They were previously doing business at 5 Aldrich Ave. SE, on the north side of the 1776 Clothing Company building.
The Chamber is a non-profit membership based organization (501C6) and not a branch of city government. Not being part of the city government, the Chamber's annual goals and operations are set by a governing board made up of citizens from area member businesses. The Chamber plays a key role in organizing several annual events for the Wadena community including: Wadena’s signature summer celebration June Jubilee, the Wadena Zombie Run, and the long-running annual holiday showcase, the Christmas Festival.
The move to The Depot is one the Chamber has been working towards since an announcement in July, 2018, that the current residents, Partners for a Healthy Wadena, would be exiting the building and hoping another group could take over the lease. While Partners no longer lease the building, they'll still keep some of their items stored at the building and continue to hold meetings at that location.
Chamber Executive Director Jed Brazier and employee Crystal Riddle are setup in an office area on the east side of the building. That's the only portion the chamber is leasing. The remainder is open for visitors to step back in time and view the history of the railroad displayed upon the walls of the Depot. You can also step up to the front of the building and watch the trains blaze by.
Prior to the Chamber moving in, The Depot was not regularly open to the public except for special events, rental or by appointment. Now you can stop by most anytime during Chamber hours, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday - Friday.
Brazier said the Chamber is pleased to be in this location as it offers them a venue with ample meeting space for community talks and business gatherings.
"It's a better fit that allows the community more extended access to this landmark we have here in Wadena," Brazier said.
Utility costs were one concern of moving, with uncertainty in how much it would cost to reside there. It remains to be seen how the utility costs will compare to the previous location. Brazier said this location will allow them much more flexibility in the events they put on.
"It's a nice little partnership with the city," Brazier said.. The city owns the building and arranged a lease agreement with the Chamber.
"I'm very excited about this move, I think this is where the Chamber belongs, it's a good fit," Chamber board member Renee Frethem said She adds it helps the Chamber be more visible in what's often considered the centerpiece of the community. "I feel warmth when I come in here."
Partners for a Healthy Wadena restored the Burlington Northern Railway Depot back to life and has been leasing the building since about 2003. The Partners raised more than a half million dollars to restore the building to one of lasting use and beauty. Of that amount, $100,000 was raised locally. Other major funds came from grants. Prior to restoration, the building was vacant, boarded up and sadly a growing eyesore in the middle of the community. It's been available for rentals since its renovation and often is rented for art shows, parties, and other community gatherings.
Partners board member LeAnn Evans said they worked to bring in information about the community inside The Depot to make it a visitor center and museum. She said it's often a stopping place for train enthusiasts. The visitor information is something the Chamber is often providing visitors and residents of the area.
Handing off the Depot building was always the goal for Partners.
"Our goal was to turn it back to the community so it was open all the time, it was serving the community for a use," Evans said. They had signs made in 2003 with "visitor center and museum" printed on them. That vision, 16 years ago, is finally fully in place.
As has been the case, Partners complete one project and move on to the next. The current project Partners are involved in includes the Crossroads project looking to improve the view of the grounds surrounding the soon-to-be-new Hwy 10/71 intersection. Partners came into existence working to rehab an old downtown building into the Cyber Cafe with Kay Browne being the most instrumental in those early years. They also worked to improve the downtown Wadena scene with different lighting and raising money for the art deco streetscape.
Partners for a Healthy Wadena Region (Partners) is a non-profit 501 (c )(3) development corporation with a mission to increase opportunities for a better life for all who live, work and play in the Wadena area. The Partners recognize that no one person alone can make the major efforts to improve a community or a region. For this reason, this organization strives to implement its mission by providing opportunities for input and participation to determine how to proactively address critical issues facing the future of the community and area.