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North American Owl Center Economic Feasibility Study

Project files


Examined existing surveys, budget information, census data and visitation numbers to determine feasibility of a North American Owl Center in Houston, MN. Report outlines the demographic characteristics, potential visitation, and operating budget for the proposed Owl Center. A Southeast Minnesota bird festival that started in 2003 at the Houston Nature Center has quickly grown into an international event as the only full-weekend, all-owl festival in North America. A bird festival attracts the interests of wildlife viewers while providing tourism benefits to the community, such as increased exposure and revenue. Based on the success of the Owl Festival, the Houston Nature Center is now in the process of analyzing the feasibility of creating a North American Owl Center (NAOC) in Houston. In 2009, the SE Partnership helped to secure a UM Community Assistantship Program intern through the Department of Applied Economics for an initial study.



Note: Information about Activities and Outcomes below is from the Executive Summary of the final report, which can be found on the UM Center for Urban and Regional Affairs website.

From September 2009 through September 2010, PhD student David Smith analyzed questions of market, visitation potential and operating budget by examining existing surveys, budget information, census data and visitation numbers of other comparable sites. A small amount of primary data was collected directly from facilities similar to the proposed NAOC to help further delineate the operating budgets. Every attempt was made to use survey studies from the region. However, if these were not available, studies that covered the state of Minnesota were used.


Selected findings from the study –

  • The majority of potential visitors fit into three main groups: regional tourists, regional residents, and Minnesota wildlife viewers.
  • Approximately 634,000 people view wildlife away from home in Minnesota.
  • Birds of prey (eagles, hawks, owls, etc.) were the most popular category of wildlife observed at 62 percent of survey respondents. Additionally, northern wintering owls were tied for third species of highest interest.
  • Possible visitation to the NAOC ranges from 42,000 to 113,000 visits per year.
  • The total general operating expenses range from $179,000 to $287,000 annually depending on the visitation scenario.
  • The total salary and wage expenses, including fringe benefits, under the three visitation scenarios ranged from $200,000 to $292,000 annually.
  • Total revenue from gift shop profits, admissions, educational programs, and memberships are estimated to range from $270,000 to $630,000 annually.
  • The net operating excess/deficit under the three-visitation scenarios range from a $111,000 deficit to a $49,000 excess.
  • Using the annual estimated tourist expenditures in Houston, Minnesota, an annual increase in local expenditures from tourists to the proposed Owl Center are estimated to range from $200,000 to $530,000.

Status as of February 2013 –

A Board of Directors was formed in 2011 and, realizing the true scope of the project, incorporated as a non-profit organization under the name “International Owl Center.” Since then the logo seen on this page was developed, a website has been launched, and an initial donor cultivation event was held. Next, the Board will be working with an architectural firm to develop a building program and concept drawing as well as working on an awareness campaign.

The Owl Center has taken over the Great Horned Owl Breeding Project featuring Rusty and Iris the Great Horned Owls. Iris is currently incubating eggs due to hatch around St. Patrick’s Day 2013 and can be viewed live on Plans are underway to construct three new aviaries to allow the acquisition of new owls to be used in educational programming.

Status as of March 2014 –
Phase I, the design and planning for the center, is nearly complete. In Phase II, the Owl Center will move into a temporary building. The Owl Center board of directors has identified a high-profile Houston building as a possible site, and they are working to finalize plans. Once that phase is complete, the plan is to build additional aviaries to house more live owls and begin construction of the proposed center. Estimated to cost between $4 and $5 million.


$1,000 contribution towards CAP student wages

Leveraged resources

$6,000 - UM Community Assistantship Program graduate internship

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