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Water tower committee seeks nonprofit status

As Brainerd's water tower committee members work toward gaining nonprofit status to keep the iconic structure standing for years to come, a more immediate approach to gain traction for the cause in the community is multi-colored lights to illuminate the tower for special occasions.

Brainerd Historic Water Tower 2020 winter.jpg
Historic Brainerd water tower viewed from downtown Brainerd, Jan. 9, 2020. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

The long-term goal is nonprofit status. The short-term plan is lights.

The citizens working toward saving Brainerd’s historic water tower are hoping to make their committee a 501(c)(3) in hopes of garnering more donations.

The seven-person committee was created by the city council in late 2018 after stucco falling from the downtown structure prompted conversations about the feasibility of saving the tower. The deal was for the committee to raise the $2-$3 million needed to save the tower in two years, or it would come down.

Now, more than a year later, the group has secured over $20,000 in donations, a grant from the Minnesota Historical Society and a great deal of momentum.

Dave Badeaux, city council liaison to the committee, told other members during a meeting Wednesday, Jan. 15, of a donor who wants to pledge $20,000 to the cause if the tower can be saved, but can only donate that money to a 501(c)(3). If one donor has this restriction, Badeaux believes others may as well, meaning nonprofit status could open up new opportunities for large donations.

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Since the committee’s inception, Brainerd Community Action has served as the fiscal agent, receiving and keeping track of all the funds.

“I think we’re far enough along,” committee member Carissa Meyer said, “where Brainerd Community Action has helped us immensely for the infant stage that we were in because we were really just trying to figure out where we were and do what we can in the meantime. But now that we have an idea of where we want to go and different opportunities, it’s the right thing for us to do.”

The nonprofit status, she added, would also help ensure longevity for the water tower by setting up bylaws, an official board and a long-term strategic plan.

Badeaux said he will continue looking into the certification process, while other members agreed to come to next month’s meeting with some ideas of what they would like to see in the nonprofit bylaws.

Lighting up the tower

A more immediate and visual representation of the committee’s progress is a series of multi-colored lights that will soon illuminate the tower.

Three of the four committee members present Wednesday agreed to purchase four of the multi-colored LED lights to replace the white lights on the tower right now.

Committee member Paul Skogen brought in a sample light from Holden Electric to show what the various colors would look like.

Red, white and blue lights could signify the Fourth of July. Bright blue could be for Brainerd homecoming or graduation. Red and green could be Christmas. Other combinations could pop up when area schools go to state tournaments, as many would have to drive through Brainerd.

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The lights would stay at white most of the time, with the different colors only popping at very specific times for special events.

Committee chair Mary Koep was the lone dissenting vote, worrying the lights would diminish the tower’s historical character.

“My concern is that I value the water tower for its history. … It’s a landmark,” she said. “It’s here for history, and certainly it’s something people look for. Now, it (the lights) will probably enhance the ‘look for’ part of it. It won’t enhance the history or the landmark part of it.”

Koep said she appreciated Skogan’s thought and enthusiasm for the lights but, if used too often, she said the water tower seems almost like a billboard, which would cheapen the historic structure.

“The historical character, it seems to me, we are altering,” she said. “We are making it like some kind of a circus clown that people will look for, whereas to me it was a dignified, beautiful historical landmark.”

Badeaux said the different colors would only happen maybe 12 times a year so as not to cheapen the tower.

“If every day you look up and it’s a different color, then you cheapen it,” Badeaux said. “But if every now and then you look up and it’s some kind of reason or some kind of celebration, it can just enhance that. And there’s a lot of places with historical buildings, historical towers as well, that have started doing it. And a lot of times it looks really elegant.”

Meyer also noted the committee is working in 2020 and must try to stay relevant, even though the tower is a piece of history.

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“I think if we start out with a very forward-thinking plan for how this is going to be used, it won’t tarnish the history of what the tower is to our city,” she said.”

Meyer, Badeaux and Skogen voted for the lights. Three members — Jody Converse, Ashley Storm and Eric Rohlfing — were not in attendance.

Each light, Skogen said, will cost about $350, with the money coming from the committee’s marketing and advertising budget, which has funds donated from the Brainerd Jaycees.

Holden Electric offered to program the lights, with the city of Brainerd and Brainerd Public Utilities agreeing to hook them up free of charge.

Badeaux hopes the lights will be in place by Valentine’s Day to shine a red hue on the tower.

The group discussed various other fundraising opportunities Wednesday as well, such as partnering with area restaurants who might pledge to give a percentage of their earnings to the water tower effort on a specific day, and a potential fundraising dinner and silent auction later in the year.

How to get involved

The water tower committee is actively seeking more members to get more ideas flowing. Those who are interested need to fill out an application, which can be found at Brainerd City Hall or online at https://bit.ly/38iJSBn .

Committee meetings are open to the public and take place at 6 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month, with the next meeting scheduled Feb. 19. While city hall is under construction, meetings are at the fire department.

Cash or 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, noting in the memo area the donation is for the water tower.

Debit and credit card donations are accepted through the city’s web store at https://cityofbrainerd.revtrak.net . There is a 3.61% service fee to donate online.

Donations are also welcome through the group’s GoFundMe page at http://bit.ly/2LVVl1G .

Those who donate $250 or more in cash or check will be eligible for refunds if enough money is not raised to save the tower. Other donations, including all of those paid online, will go to Brainerd Restoration.

For more information on the water tower committee and its work, visit bit.ly/2Fl90LE or follow the group on Facebook at "Save the Historic Brainerd Water Tower."

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

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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