Community notebook // Grain Belt sign restoration

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December 21, 2009 // UPDATED 10:46 am - December 21, 2009
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch
Plans to restore Grain Belt sign

The owners of the Grain Belt sign on the riverfront are collaborating with Schells Brewery to restore the sign to its former neon-flashing glory. They want to make the sign a historic landmark, light it up at night, and possibly sell advertising on the back side to help pay for its restoration.

None of the ideas are concrete, according to Garfield Clark, a consultant on the project. They don’t know how much restoration work is needed, how they would light the sign or how much any of this would cost.

Clark listed the sign’s land for sale a few months ago on behalf of the longtime Eastman family landowners (the nearby Eastman Avenue is reportedly named after the family). Clark said they are marketing the land for the sole purpose of lighting it up again.

“It needs to be turned back on,” Clark said. “It doesn’t look like much when it’s in the ‘off’ condition.”

The restoration could be difficult, according to Ted Marti, president of Schells Brewery. The riverbank appears to be eroding, so it’s possible the foundation might be in jeopardy. The lighting method is another big question mark. Neon doesn’t hold up well in Minnesota winters, and thousands of tiny incandescent light bulbs present another “maintenance nightmare,” according to the lighting consultant retained in the 1980s.

Marti said that for Schells, this effort is about historic restoration rather than Grain Belt advertising. Traffic counts in the area are nowhere near traffic on nearby freeways, he said, but the sign itself has become an icon.

“When you think of Minneapolis, you think of that sign,” he said.

Marti said they have talked about remodeling the sign ever since Schells bought the Grain Belt label in 2002, but they never had a good monetary solution until now. Several groups are interested in leasing ad space, he said, and that cash flow could help maintain the sign over time.

Victor Grambsch, chair of the Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association, said his board is interested in hearing more about the type of signage that could go up behind the Grain Belt billboard. If the city allowed LED lights on the site, they would be tremendously bright, Grambsch said. Light displays tested at the new Twins stadium are visible all the way over on the East Bank, he said.

Grambsch said many people see the sign as an important part of the historical landscape. When the sign went up in the early 1940s, Downtown didn’t have skyways and the city was fairly dark.

“This thing must have lit up like a beacon on the horizon when this was lit,” he said.

Loring Park

Minnesota AIDS Project rolls out new HIV prevention program

Now that Access Works is closed in Loring Park and its syringe exchange has gone with it, the Minnesota Aids Project is filling the gap with an expanded syringe exchange program.

A mobile van travels to spots with high concentrations of drug users.

“This tends to be a mobile population,” said Executive Director Lorraine Teel. “This is an important HIV prevention tool.”

Teel said Minnesota has one of the nation’s lowest rates of HIV contracted as a result of injecting drug use.

For more information, visit mnaidsproject.org

Loring Park leaders seeking safety ambassadors’ help


Now that Downtown businesses are paying extra taxes to hire safety ambassadors, people who live immediately outside the new “Downtown Improvement District” worry that criminals are getting pushed out of Downtown and into their neighborhoods.

A new influx of people are loitering at bus stops and elsewhere in Loring Park, according to Bob Hansen, chair of Citizens for a Loring Park Community’s (CLPC) Livability Committee. The situation has worsened since the District launched last summer, he said. Several residents have called CLPC with concerns that the District be expanded to 15th Street — it currently ends at Grant Street.

As a result, CLPC started researching ways to stretch those boundaries. The board has since learned that safety ambassadors could work on a fee-for-service basis in Loring Park. At upcoming neighborhood meetings, residents will learn more specifics about how much the ambassadors might cost.

CLPC is also exploring the idea of installing SafeZone cameras, which are currently only found Downtown.

Lt. Matt Clark said a supervisor dispatches police and monitors SafeZone cameras, and additional cameras could be added to that system.

“The issue is paying for the cameras,” he said, noting they would cost about $12,000. “We’ve looked at stationary cameras as an alternative, but the neighborhood association would need to generate the funding.”

In the meantime, police are working to allocate resources where residents say they want them most.

In a Loring neighborhood survey last October, 74 percent of respondents said they felt moderately safe in the neighborhood, with 18 percent saying they felt very safe. More than half felt that panhandling was a problem, and 90 percent said they felt least safe during the evening. Most respondents said police were doing a good job, but they wanted to see more bike patrols and more cops patrolling in the evening.

“We’ve used the survey to better understand the call for evening patrols in the neighborhood,” Clark said. “As we suspected, the public would like to see an increase in bikes, horses and beat officers. We plan on shifting our resources to better meet these requests.”

Downtown Core

New bus route to Roseville

Express bus service from Downtown to Roseville started on Dec. 14.

The 20-minute ride serves the new four-level parking ramp east of I-35W near County Road C and Cleveland Avenue North in Roseville. Drop-off points Downtown will stretch along Marquette and 2nd avenues.

Public money funded the parking ramp as part of an effort to ease traffic congestion.

The bus fare is $3 each way.

For more information, visit metrotransit.org.

HCMC expands composting


Used paper cups at the Hennepin County Medical Center will find a second life in landscaping and road construction projects, thanks to an expanded composting program that went into effect this month.

HCMC is now composting food scraps and paper waste, and the hospital expects to save money on sewage, solid waste and water costs as a result. To implement the project, the hospital secured a county grant to purchase a special compactor designed to hold organic waste.

According to the county, organic waste is difficult to burn and it emits methane gas when it decomposes in landfills.

A call for mentors

A new youth initiative launching this December is not targeting people’s wallets — it’s targeting their schedules.

Community involvement is the big idea behind Project 8, a new program that is looking for mentors from Downtown neighborhoods.

“When you build something out of money and grants, that goes away,” said co-founder Mike Jackson. But if someone can offer five hours per week teaching a young person to play the piano or balance a checkbook, he said, that connection can have much more permanence.

“There is so much we can do that doesn’t have to strain our lives and our checkbooks,” Jackson said.

He said people should mentor local youths because it makes their neighborhoods safer. If young people recognize more faces in their communities, they might think twice before acting out, he said.

For more information, visit www.project8online.org.