Stone Arch Bridge could get new lighting

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March 15, 2004 // UPDATED 9:48 am - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Stone Arch Bridge accent lighting has taken a big step forward, with community leaders mounting a $125,000 fund-raising campaign toward an ambitious July 4 deadline.

The goal is to throw the switch illuminating the underside of the arches just prior to the July 4 riverfront fireworks, as part of this summer's Grand Excursion celebration, organizers said.

Independence Day in Downtown will have more than the average amount of hoopla since it marks the 150-year anniversary of the Grand Excursion of 1854. That year, President Millard Fillmore and 1,200 dignitaries traveled to St. Anthony Falls via train, steamboat and horseback to celebrate the holiday.

Local officials are planning another Grand Excursion celebration, culminating in "A Gathering at the Falls" event. It will include a "Mingling of the Waters" ceremony, youth choirs, a tribute to three decades of riverfront renaissance and the bridge lighting.

Jay Cowles and Charlie Zelle are lead community volunteers for the Grand Excursion and related events, Cowles said.

Zelle, president of Jefferson Lines tour bus company, said his family has had a long interest in the riverfront, including the development of St. Anthony Main. The riverfront now has lots of light and activity, both from residences and places such as the Mill City Museum.

"But if you look out onto the river itself after dark, it is fairly desolate," Zelle said. "You can't see. It is a dark valley between these two vibrant riverbanks. I think the clear connector and visual icon is this beautiful bridge."

Zelle also chairs the Guthrie Theater Board and said the new Guthrie would a have a fifth-floor bridge over the parkway facing the river. Theatergoers would see the Stone Arch Bridge, "with light reflecting off not just the arches, but glowing into the river itself."

Cowles said the July 4 deadline for the bridge lighting is ambitious, "but we are on track."

Heidi Hamilton, the Public Works Department's point person on the bridge project, said the lighting plan has to clear a number of government hurdles.

The city's Heritage Preservation Commission, Minnesota Department of Transportation (the bridge's owner), the State Historic Preservation Office, the Army Corps of Engineers (which oversees river navigation) and the U.S. Coast Guard all have some form of review and approval of the new lights, she said.

The bridge already has pedestrian lights on top. Lighting the undersides of the arches is strictly for looks.

Cowles said it would cost approximately $195,000 to install and operate the lights for five years.

The City Council's Transportation and Public Works Committee March 2 passed a resolution accepting a $50,000 gift from Xcel Energy, a lead donor. The committee authorized the City Engineer to negotiate with Xcel and other donors to light the bridge. The resolution required the donors to pay for the annual operating costs, as well as the lighting installation.

The Grand Excursion Host Committee gave $20,000 for bridge lighting, leaving a $125,000 gap, Cowles said. Organizers have established a special fund at the Minneapolis Foundation to support the Stone Arch Bridge lighting and Grand Excursion events.

Those interested in helping should make checks payable to the Minneapolis Foundation, 800 IDS Center, 80 S. 8th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402, and specify the donation to the Minneapolis Riverfront Fund.

The fund will also help pay for Grand Excursion events, though organizers have already raised $100,000 of their $125,000 goal, Cowles said.

Some people want the Stone Arch Bridge to be the first in a series of bridge lighting projects. Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) suggested doing the 3rd Avenue Bridge next.

Cowles said his personal commitment is to the Stone Arch Bridge.

"It is easy to see -- as you imagine the beauty and impact that this will have -- that others may be inspired to look at other bridges," he said. "I think that would be spectacular."