With the flip of a switch, one of Minneapolis’ most recognizable landmarks came back to life Saturday evening.
The giant Grain Belt Beer bottle cap overlooking the Mississippi River shone brightly again after more than 20 years of darkness. Its flashing lights rejoin another vintage downtown advertisement, the Gold Medal Flour sign, illuminating the city skyline.
The August Schell Brewing Co. — which owns the Grain Belt brand and its namesake marker near the Hennepin Avenue Bridge — pushed to have the sign added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.
“The Grain Belt Beer sign both reflects and contributes to the downtown Minneapolis character as a historic industrial and commercial city,” Ted Marti, company president and descendant of brewery founder August Schell, said in a prepared statement.
Efforts to restore the relic have been in the works for nearly 15 years.
The New Ulm company bought Grain Belt in 2002, an acquisition that crowned Schell as the state’s largest brewery. But negotiations with the Daphne R. Eastman Family Trust to buy the sign were not finalized until 2016. To celebrate, Grain Belt released a new brew called Lock & Dam, named for a now-defunct landmark on the riverfront.
Refurbishing the sign included replacing the neon tubes and 1,100 incandescent light bulbs with LED lights. Twin Cities beer enthusiasts pitched in by purchasing individual bulbs. A limited number of $100 commemorative packages earned donors a certificate stating which letter they helped restore, a T-shirt and Grain Belt sign.
On Saturday, Minneapolis Mayor-elect Jacob Frey joined Schell representatives for a relighting ceremony as onlookers lined West River Parkway. A northeast Minneapolis pub crawl preceded the ticketed After Glow Party at Nicollet Island Pavilion.
The 1940s-era sign was originally placed over the Marigold Ballroom at 13th Street and Nicollet Mall, now the Hyatt Regency Hotel. In 1950, it was moved to its current location along the riverfront. The sign was lit, then went dark, then was re-lit several times over the years, but hasn’t been illuminated since 1996.