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More than $30 million sought for Fort Snelling rehabilitation funds

By Mike Cook
On Oct. 15, 2015, members and staff of the House Capital Investment Committee walk by the historic cavalry barracks at Fort Snelling which the Minnesota Historical Society proposes to rehabilitate as the new visitor center. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Historic Fort Snelling has been around for nearly 200 years, but a much newer building at the site needs to be replaced.

Sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), HF2376 calls for appropriating $34.4 million in bond proceeds to rehabilitate a pair of buildings to create a new visitor center almost double the size of the current one, create a park-like plaza for reflection and commemoration and enhance wayfinding. 

“The project will enable the Minnesota Historical Society to reach new audiences by telling a wide variety of stories about Minnesota through the fort’s history,” he told the House State Government Finance Committee at an informational hearing Thursday. A companion, SF2223, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

HF2376 discussion in House State Government Finance Committee 3/10/16

D. Stephen Elliott, director and chief executive officer of the Minnesota Historical Society, said approximately 75,000 people visit Fort Snelling each year, including 25,000 children on school field trips. With the changes, he expects that number to grow.

Elliott said the current underground visitor center was built in the late 1970s, but water problems have plagued the structure almost since its opening. For example, tarps are now rigged up to the ceiling during a medium-sized rain event to keep water away from work areas.

He said consultants have determined putting more money into the building for water infiltration issues — likely $5 million to $7 million over the next 20 years — is nothing more than a Band-Aid approach.

The target is to have the new center completed in time for Fort Snelling’s bicentennial in 2020.

“Our goal with this project is to involve Minnesotans more deeply in learning about this place and its engaging history and to provide the facilities that’ll make this learning possible,” Elliott said.

Predesign money for the project was passed during last year’s special session, and Elliott said the society plans to raise $12 million privately to augment state funds. Commitments for $4 million have been pledged.

“History is something that’s very worth of the investment in this case,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-Crystal).

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