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Future visitors to Minneapolis' historic Lakewood Cemetery will be greeted by a new and energy-efficient Welcome Center, the largest project the nonprofit that runs the cemetery has undertaken in years.

Lakewood officials unveiled plans Wednesday for the multi-million dollar center, a 25,000-square-foot building slated to open in 2024 along with new gardens and walking paths.

It comes at a time when the sprawling cemetery, which opened in 1871, is seeking to "reimagine" itself as not just a place to honor the dead but as a community gathering place hosting concerts, trolley tours and other events.

"We are part of the community and the Welcome Center now provides a point of proof," said Chris Makowske, president of the cemetery and the Lakewood Heritage Foundation, the cemetery's charitable arm established in 2018 to boost fundraising and beautification projects. "It's an investment in the community by Lakewood."

Makowske declined to disclose the project's price tag but said it will be funded by the nonprofit's endowment. He said the new building will better serve the cemetery's growing number of visitors than its 1920s-era administration building, which will be repurposed.

The modern two-story center, to be located near the main entrance of the 250-acre cemetery at W. 36th Street and Hennepin Avenue, will provide space for more events and classes as well as offices for 32 employees. It will be "net zero," producing energy through a geothermal mechanical system and a rooftop solar array.

Crews will install four gardens with water features around the new building, and plant at least 150 trees this year across the cemetery's acreage to replace hundreds of ash trees lost to the emerald ash borer.

"So much about Lakewood is about the nature, so we wanted to make sure that was a priority," Makowske said.

He said he hopes the Welcome Center will become a gathering spot for the broader community. Many of the 10,000-plus annual visitors to Lakewood don't go there for funerals or to visit a loved one's grave, but to attend events or just stroll the bucolic grounds near Minneapolis' Chain of Lakes.

"Lakewood is not just a place to bury," Makowske said, "but to gather and remember."