Updated: 12/10/2013 10:51 PM
Created: 12/10/2013 5:42 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
It cost just $5,000 to build. But for some Minnesotans, it's a priceless piece of history.
The Grain Belt beer sign in downtown Minneapolis has been tagged and vandalized for years. But there's a new plan to stop it -- and bring the darkened landmark back to life.
It's as familiar as the Minneapolis skyline -- one behemoth of a bottle cap from a bygone era.
"You see it on tee-shirts. You see it at the airport," said Chris Hage, a Minneapolis resident working with the owner of the sign.
"It's cool. People like it," said Erin Hanafin Berg, field services coordinator with the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota.
The sign has kept watch over Minneapolis from its perch on Nicollet Island since the 1940's.
"It really ties in with our heritage from the earliest pioneer days of Minnesota," Hage said.
"It's very iconic. It's the kind of thing that can only be in Minneapolis," Berg said.
But the sign that has survived so many drastic changes around it has itself entered a new, unfortunate chapter.
"It's been an attraction for vandals and graffiti," Hage said.
Over the past several years, many people have climbed the base of the sign and painted graffiti all over the back of the sign. Each time the graffiti is painted over, it gets tagged again. Earlier this year, the City of Minneapolis gave the private owner a $10,000 grant to help enclose the base of the sign, which would make it much harder to climb.
"You make that more difficult, you're going to solve 80 percent of the problem," Hage said.
Hage and Berg said construction on that project could start in the spring. But their plans go far beyond graffiti prevention -- to full restoration.
In its glory days, the sign used to be lit up with neon lights. It's been dark for two decades. But Hage and Berg want to turn the lights back on.
"I don't think that it's going to take a ton of money, but it's going to take a lot of people chipping in to get it done," Berg said.
That effort could take years. But the revered relic has persevered before.
On Tuesday, a city council committee voted to give the owner more time to complete the anti-graffiti work.
Full restoration and re-lighting could cost hundreds of thousands of additional dollars. Supporters are currently conducting a feasibility study, and are considering crowdsource fundraising as a possibility.