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Proposal would relight iconic Pillsbury sign

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: March 25, 2014 - 5:45 PM

"Pillsbury's Best Flour," one of Minneapolis' most iconic signs, is slated to light up the night once again.

A proposal to rehab the sign, which has been dark for several years, is headed to the city’s heritage preservation commission. The red neon letters, located atop Red Tile Elevator on the East Bank of the Mississippi, would get a new life at the same time as a major renovation adjoining Pillsbury “A” Mill into artist lofts. Some of new residences will be located below the sign itself.

The 30-foot sign has stood atop the Red Tile Elevator since about 1940, according to city records. It replaced a similar sign that stood since about 1920, which featured a large flour bag.

In 2010, a contract between Pillsbury parent company General Mills and the building's owner at the time, Schafer Richardson, expired to keep the sign lit and maintained. The photo above is from 1998.

The new proposal would replace the sign's neon with LED lights intended to mimic the original look. The conversion will save energy costs, requires no maintenance and will not leak gas, according to a city report.

A supplemental report from Lawrence Sign, which is proposing the rehab, shows that maintenance costs would be reduced from more than $15,000 a year to just under $1,000.

The existing steel letter faces would be reused, but new aluminum backs would be attached, since they are rustproof -- the current steel letters have experienced significant rust. The size, shape, design and color of the letters would remain the same.

Photos submitted by Lawrence Sign (below) show that there is also graffiti on the existing sign. Shari King with the company added in an interview that much of the existing neon is not working.

"It would not be able to light in its original capacity right now," King said. "Not as is without doing any kind of refurbishing of it."

The Pillsbury "A" Mill is one of just three National Historic Landmarks in Minneapolis, an ode to the city's milling origins.

Architectural historian Larry Millett called it the "greatest of all American flour mills" in his guide to Twin Cities architecture. He wrote that it is the only architect-designed flour mill in the city.

The building's new developer, Dominium, plans to convert the five floors below the sign — which sit atop grain silos — into new apartments. "The windows are not as spectacular as we'd hoped, but you still get some pretty darn nice views," said Owen Metz with Dominium. The redevelopment of the site is expected to be complete in 2015, though Metz said some units will open in December of this year.

The heritage preservation commission will discuss the sign rehab at their meeting on April 1. The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association supported the rehab in a letter to the commission.

"The sign has been in disrepair for several years, with no working lights, and we support this iconic sign's relighting," association president Cordelia Pierson wrote.

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