Water tower committee: Large donations to be refunded if tower can't be saved; Credit, debit accepted soon

After agreeing last month not to refund donations made to save Brainerd's historical water tower, should the effort fail, the water tower committee changed its tune.

The "sunset date" is set -- Aug. 6, 2020 -- for backers of the historic water tower to raise funds for its rehabilitation, a project estimated to cost between $2.4 million to $3 million. Brainerd Dispatch File Photo
The iconic water tower in downtown Brainerd has been a symbol for the lakes area for decades. Now a grassroots fundraising effort is attempting to save the structure from demolition. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

After agreeing last month not to refund donations made to save Brainerd's historical water tower, should the effort fail, the water tower committee changed its tune.

In January, all committee members except for Chair Mary Koep agreed to donate to Brainerd Restoration any proceeds collected if enough funds to save the water tower are not raised by the October 2020 sunset date. The group's thought process at the time was refunding money would be difficult, and this way the donations would still go toward historic restoration.

During a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 27, council liaison Dave Badeaux said he received four phone calls from community members asking the committee to reconsider issuing refunds, especially in the case of larger donations.

"As member of the council, any time you have three or more phone calls, that means there's a larger concern in the community," Badeaux said. "I don't want to make it so that we can't get funds because people aren't going to because they're not going to get it back."

The committee agreed to issue refunds for cash or check donations of $250 or more. Anything less than that will be donated to Brainerd Restoration if efforts to save the water tower failed.


While Koep said she didn't want to discourage smaller donations either-as even $50 is a lot of money for some-she agreed to the measure, noting some refund was better than none, even though she would have liked to see the threshold lower.

Credit and debit card donations will soon be accepted as well. The committee is working with the city of Brainerd to create a spot on the city's web store for that purpose. But because the credit card service charges about 3.5 percent per transaction, those donations would not be refunded if efforts fail, a notion the committee agreed would have to be clear on the website. The city will turn over funds raised through the website to Brainerd Community Action, the committee's fiduciary agent.

And those familiar with the popular crowdsourcing website GoFundMe will have the option to donate to the cause that way in the near future as well.

Carissa Meyer, the group's marketing manager, said she was approached by someone willing to make a donation to save the water tower through a crowdsourcing campaign like GoFundMe.

"The advantage of the GoFundMe is that it's worldwide," Badeaux said. "You can get a presence anywhere on the globe, and there is a chance that we could connect with someone who has no idea what the water tower even is but would be willing donate to history or to architecture."

Similarly with the online credit card donations, there is a transaction fee for all donations collected through GoFundMe. According to its website, GoFundMe does not charge a fee to use the platform, but there is a 2.9 percent transaction fee plus a $0.30 fee per donation.

After committee approval, Meyer and Badeaux agreed to work on creating the GoFundMe campaign.

Cash or check donations may 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 noting the donation is to save the water tower.


Anyone who has fundraising ideas can contact committee treasurer Ashley Storm at .

The water tower committee meets next at 6 p.m. March 20 at city hall.

In other business Wednesday, the committee:

Accepted an offer of a free booth at the Crow Wing County Fair to collect donations. The committee will have to provide volunteers to staff the booth.

Discussed hosting a run during the Brainerd Jaycees Street Fest this summer. Meyer said the Jaycees are open to the idea, and entry fees for the race would go toward saving the tower.

Discussed offering Love Your Melon hats with the water tower emblem on them to promote the cause. Love Your Melon is a clothing company that sells hats and headbands and donates part of the proceeds to help fight childhood cancer. This would not be a fundraising effort, as all money would be paid to Love Your Melon, but could be used as a marketing tool to promote the committee's efforts.

Set a goal of 1,000 likes on the group's Facebook page-"Save the Historic Brainerd Water Tower"-by the committee's next meeting.

Heard from Don Samuelson, president of the Crow Wing County Historical Society, about ways to gain state and federal funding for the water tower. Samuelson and his son, Steve, agreed to contact the governor's office and attempt to set up a meeting so committee members can plead their case.


Water tower background

Stucco falling last year from the historic water tower on the corner of Washington and South Sixth streets in downtown Brainerd prompted city officials to explore repair options for the iconic structure.

With similar issues in the past, the 100-year-old tower faces the possibility of demolition if the roughly $2.4 million to $3 million needed to repair it are not raised by October 2020.

The water tower committee's goal is to raise at least $1.6 million in the time allotted, as that, Badeaux, said would give the city a base to start and the opportunity to explore other options-like a referendum-to raise the rest of the funds.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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