Fare-thee-well to $350,000 Nicollet Mall fountain flop

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March 14, 2005 // UPDATED 1:52 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

The city of Minneapolis is donating the Nicollet Mall fountain Northern Lights to the city of Maplewood.

In the art world, they call it de-accession. In the practical world, it means that the fountain doesn't work, and it's time for the city to cut its losses.

The city bought the fountain in 1991 and installed in on the mall's east side between South 5th and 6th streets. The city rates it in poor condition.

The fountain has a 15-by-26-foot black granite bench base with curving rows of stainless steel square tubing inside. The tubing is 8 feet high and has spray jets and misters near the top. The fountain was supposed to operate year-round, with bubblers and jets in the summer and separate winter misters that develop ice formations. Pool basin lights were designed to illuminate the sculpture and ice forms.

According to a Feb. 23 report, the fountain has never worked properly.

"The spray from the fountain extends beyond the pool, and in the winter creates a risk to public safety," wrote Mary Altman, public arts administrator. "In its current state, it operates with minimal water flow in the summer and without water or ice in the winter. The basin that contains the sculpture is a convenient place for mall users to dispose of their trash, which is a public eyesore."

According to the Altman memo:

The Nicollet Mall Advisory Board asked the Minneapolis Arts Commission to remove the fountain. The Commission offered the fountain to the Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the library board and several museums but got no takers.

(It would cost more than the original $350,000 purchase price to remove, re-plumb and reinstall the fountain at a new location.)

The city offered the fountain to other municipalities and got several inquires, but ultimately only Maplewood submitted a proposal. Maplewood plans to install the fountain as part of its 11-acre Legacy Village Sculpture Park.

Should Maplewood change its mind, the city would allow Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar to remove and store the fountain, according to a motion passed by the City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee March 3. The full Council unanimously voted March 11 to send the fountain away.