Effort to relight Grain Belt sign resurfaces

Share this:
May 23, 2014 // UPDATED 2:31 pm - May 27, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
The Grain Belt sign today
Sarah McKenzie
Ben Johnson

The Preservation Alliance and Schell’s Brewery are exploring options to relight the Grain Belt sign on Nicollet Island with a new LED lighting system.

Representatives from Schell’s and the Preservation Alliance met with the Nicollet Island Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA) May 22 to gauge the neighborhood’s attitude toward relighting the sign.

Neighbors agreed they would like to see the sign relit, but are not willing to use NIEBNA funds to pay for it and are staunchly opposed to any advertising placed on the back of the sign to help pay for its maintenance.

Early estimates project that it would cost about $250,000 to fix up the sign and about $500 a month for property taxes and basic maintenance. State Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-60B), who lives in the neighborhood and was in attendance, along with Mohamud Noor, her challenger in the upcoming election, suggested that State Legacy funds may be able to pay for some of the renovation. Kahn chairs the House Legacy Committee, which oversees the dispersal of the funds.

Kyle Marti, the representative from Schell’s, was non-committal on whether or not Schell’s is willing to pay for the repairs or future operational costs. Schell’s bought the Grain Belt brand in 2002.

Neighbors pointed out that it could be another iconic landmark for Minneapolis to showcase when the Super Bowl arrives in 2018, and a good marketing opportunity for Schell's.

“The fact that a capitalistic businessman sits here and won’t commit to putting up $500 a month for a billboard at the end of Hennepin Avenue is baffling to me,” said Victor Grambsch, president of NIEBNA.

The sign was originally built in 1940 and was lit until 1976, when the Grain Belt Brewery was sold. It was relit in 1989, but went dark again in 1991 when Grain Belt was sold again. The sign was relit for a second time in 1992 and the lights stayed on until 1996, when Grain Belt’s owner went bankrupt.

The sign sits on land owned by the Eastman family, who live in Houston, Texas. The Eastmans are open to donating the land to a buyer who is willing to pay for the sign’s upkeep.

Any renovation project that moves forward would have to include a steel fence around the base of the sign to prevent people from climbing the sign and defacing it with graffiti.

Earlier this month workers took down the “Pillsbury’s Best Flour” sign from atop the Pillsbury A-Mill development and are currently refurbishing it with new neon lights.

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // bjohnson@journalmpls.com // @johnsonbend