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Preservationists push for additional funds to finish Fort Snelling revitalization

David Kelliher, right, public policy director for the Minnesota Historical Society, testifies in support of HF228, sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl, center, to provide funding for restoring Historic Fort Snelling. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Next year is the bicentennial for Fort Snelling.

But parts of the state’s first national historic landmark at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers are showing their age.

In the midst of a proposed $46.5 million renovation, supporters of HF228 are asking the state to push forward final funding to finish the efforts.

Sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), the bill, amended to seek $12 million rather than $15 million, was approved Wednesday by the House State Government Finance Division and sent to the House Ways and Committee with a recommended re-referral to the House Capital Investment Division. There is no Senate companion.

“This is all about improving the visitor experience for the next several generations,” said Kent Whitworth, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society.

[WATCH: A new vision for Historic Fort Snelling]

The plan includes creating a new visitor’s center along with programming space in a rehabilitated 1904 cavalry building, and updating landscaping and trails to provide for more outdoor learning. Changes would help to expand and update interpretation of the fort’s past, including slavery, diversity and military history.

The current underground visitor’s center with its leaky ceiling and wall cracks inside and out, along with inadequate program space, is to be demolished later this year. Engineering studies show a new center is a wiser investment compared to renovating the facility designed in the 1970s.

Legislation in 2015 and 2017 provided design funding and last year’s capital investment law provided $15 million — half of what was requested to finish the project. Non-state and pledged dollars also total $15 million.

“In the interim, we went back to our architects with the idea that there’s no assurance there’d be any additional funding in a subsequent bonding bill,” said David Kelliher, the society’s public policy director. “We had to plan it out in such a way that could we do something with the funding that is available and could we add on later should more funds become available.”

Without the additional funding, renovation of a second building would be put on hold and much of landscaping changes would not proceed.

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