Depot work set for this autumn

Renovations to Burlington Northern Park Depot could begin this fall after nearly a decade of discussion and planning. "We're looking at the depot to be the center of tourism and an example of historical preservation in the area," said Kay Browne,...

Renovations to Burlington Northern Park Depot could begin this fall after nearly a decade of discussion and planning.

"We're looking at the depot to be the center of tourism and an example of historical preservation in the area," said Kay Browne, depot project manager.

Plans are nearly completed for the depot restoration and are awaiting approval from MnDOT. Work will include constructing an accessible ramp from the parking lot to the building, tuck pointing, the installation of a new electrical, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, along with plumbing repair. The depot will be handicapped accessible and have two rest rooms instead of one. Restoration will match the original building.

The city owns the depot, and Partners for a Healthy Wadena Region is leasing it with the agreement that the group would restore the depot. Once restored, the building will be used as a multi-purpose community activity center and railroad museum. The Northern Pacific Passenger Depot is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

From a practical standpoint, Browne said historic preservation is a proven economic development tool.


"It attracts tourists to see authentic places that take them on a journey imagining what it was like to be alive in another time," she said.

Heritage tourism is the fastest growing segment of tourism in the states, she said, and these tourists also stay longer in communities and spend more money than other tourists.

"Wadena has the potential to capitalize on this development opportunity," Browne said.

After renovations at Wadena's depot are completed, Partners for a Healthy Wadena Region will move offices there. Also, information about Wadena will be available at the depot for visitors, Browne said.

The railroad museum will feature items donated by families in the area.

Two grants have been given for depot restoration.

The first is a $437,000 transportation enhancement grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The second is a $79,300 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.

The grants will assist with the depot restoration. Rehabilitation of a transportation-related structure is one reason a grant was awarded for the depot project.


The transportation grant is a 20 percent match, cash or in-kind, and the historical society grant is a 50 percent match. Additional possibilities for the project are renovations around the depot, including the parking lot and bandstand. It depends on how far the money goes, Browne said.

Site improvements include pavers around the depot, parking lot reconstruction, parking lot lights and two walkways on the side of the parking lot.

After plans are approved, Partners will go to the Wadena County board for authorization to spend the money because the county is the fiscal agent.

The Wadena City Council discussed the depot and bandstand renovations at the July 11 meeting.

The city set aside $20,000 this year to work on renovations of the depot and bandstand -- $10,000 was set aside for the depot and $10,000 for the bandstand, said City Administrator Brad Swenson. The council looked at bandstand plans and began to discuss priorities for the work. The bandstand has major safety issues that need to be worked on, Swenson said.

The council tabled the discussion for the next meeting.

With construction on the depot beginning this year, Browne anticipates it will be completed by fall 2007, she said. But the park won't be finished then. A master plan is being developed to span 10-15 years, Browne said.

The historic depot has a lot of background and discussions began nearly a decade ago.


In 1997, discussions about the revitalization of the city of Wadena were happening, Browne said. The depot was a project that stood out and people began to have meetings to establish the interest in the project, she said.

The city of Wadena bought the depot in 1999, Swenson said. The city and Partners entered into a lease in 2003.

After Healthy Community Partnership training through the Initiative Foundation between 1998 and 2000, the depot was made a priority project. A depot task force was started and there was a brainstorming session. A desire for a visitor's center/event center came out of that meeting, Browne said.

Creating a visitor's center out of a depot has worked in other cities, she said.

Since the city purchased the depot, several improvements have already been made to the depot.

Facia board and soffits were added and the roof was replaced, Browne said. Also, wiring for the lights was done. Volunteers fixed about 30 windows by glazing, priming and painting them. Some of the plaster inside the depot has been repaired and painted.

Browne got involved with the project because she had seen the old Junior High get torn down and regretted that at that time.

"Also, I have always noticed that Wadena has a large number of historic buildings for a town of its size," Browne said. "Not many small rural towns in Minnesota have as much character and as many visible signs of past prosperity."


This is an important asset, not to be taken lightly, she said.

"Historic structures add character to a community that cannot be replaced once they are lost. They are visual signs of a community's history," Browne said. "New construction seldom comes close to the quality used in many of these buildings and can never capture the true character or sense of place."

So far, Partners has raised $105,000 and the goal is $144,000. The depot fund drive will continue through the end of August, Browne said. At that time, it can be determined how much of the project can be done.

Donations can be sent to Partners for a Healthy Wadena Region at P.O. Box 335, Wadena, MN 56482 or people can call Kay Browne at (218) 631-4755.

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