The group working to preserve downtown Brainerd’s historic water tower is on its way to nonprofit status after approving bylaws and articles of incorporation in an effort to secure more funding.

The group took a bit of a fundraising hiatus during the pandemic, when events had to be canceled.

“I think we took the right stance on that,” said Mayor Dave Badeaux, city council liaison to the committee, during a meeting Tuesday, June 23. “Let’s let people figure out what this means and where things are at. And then the water tower — that discussion can continue when it’s more appropriate, which is now. I think that it’s more appropriate now.”

During Tuesday’s meeting — the first since the pandemic started — committee members talked through proposed bylaws of their nonprofit, which will be called the Brainerd Historic Water Tower Preservation Committee. The organization’s purpose will be “to preserve and restore the original water tower in perpetuity and to bring public attention to its history and value.”

The citizen committee dedicated to saving the tower formed in late 2018 after chunks of falling stucco brought attention to the century-old structure and sparked discussion about its fate.

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With estimates to fix the tower ranging anywhere from $1.6 million up to $3 million, Brainerd City Council members allowed for the creation of a committee to raise the funds within the next two years. Otherwise, the aging structure would be demolished at a city cost of about $300,000.

A committee of seven community members has worked diligently since October 2018 to stop that demolition from happening. Their latest step is applying for 501(c)(3) status, which can unlock more funding opportunities. Badeaux previously told the group he knows of a donor who wants to pledge $20,000 to the cause, but can only donate the money to a 501(c)(3). And if one donor has that stipulation, Badeaux said others may as well.

The next step is to submit the articles of incorporation to the state and essentially wait for approval.

As of Tuesday, the group raised nearly $21,000 from community members and businesses, along with a $23,700 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society to fund schematic designs for a new roof — the committee’s first step in preserving the tower. A 2017 structure report noted the top of the water tower’s bowl would soon start to deteriorate without a roof. The city of Brainerd kicked in $12,500 to cover one-third of the design cost. A representative from LHB — the firm creating the designs — was set to inspect the tower Thursday morning. After the inspection, committee member Paul Skogen said it will take about a year to get a set of plans. Then, the city will have to bid the project next summer, meaning construction would likely not start until 2022 when crews can have a full season to work on the project, Skogen said.

In the meantime, the committee will be working to secure more funds — both through grants and donations. The roof is estimated at $1.6 million.

“I entered into this so optimistically, but I’m at the point that I’m getting nervous,” Committee Chair Mary Koep said Tuesday.

With the council’s original sunset date of October 2020 looming, Badeaux said it’s up to the city council if they want to push back the date. Committee members are hopeful the work they have accomplished will encourage the council to let them keep working.

How to help

The seven-member water tower committee is looking for more members to join the team and eventually the nonprofit.

Before the pandemic, the committee met at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month, either at city hall or at the fire department while city hall is under construction.

Those who wish to attend meetings — which are open to the public — should call the city at 218-828-2307 or check the city’s website for the date and location of upcoming meetings.

Applications for committee positions are available online at https://bit.ly/2SwQ4Rt.

Anyone who wants to donate financially to the tower can do so in several ways. Donations can be made online via the city’s website at ci.brainerd.mn.us/ or through a GoFundMe page at https://bit.ly/2MLJWRV. A 3.61% service fee will be applied to all donations through the city’s website. GoFundMe collects 2.9% of the funds raised and charges $0.30 per donation.

Cash and check donations can be dropped off at or sent to Brainerd Community Action, 321 S. Seventh St. Suite 105, Brainerd, MN, 56401. Checks can be made out to Brainerd Community Action, and all donations should include a note to earmark the funds to save the water tower.

If the committee does not ultimately raise enough money to save the tower, donations of $250 or more will be eligible for refunds. The rest of the funds raised will go to Brainerd Restoration.

Anyone with fundraising ideas can contact the water tower committee through city hall or attend a monthly meeting.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.