Lake Harriet's band shell looked better in blue.
Minneapolis could agree on that.
The band shell had been beige for two dull decades. Now, as the city prepared to repair and restore the local landmark, nearly 1,600 people petitioned the city to repaint the pavilion the blue they remembered. A light bluish gray, like the sky above and the lake below.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board agreed. Park staff crafted a shade of oil-based stain they called "bluestone" and tested it on an 8-foot-tall shingled pillar. Under artificial lights in the workshop, it looked true blue.
Last weekend, they stationed the bluestone on the shores of Lake Harriet and invited the community to an open house.
Minneapolis looked — but did not see blue.
Most observers saw gray. Gray like battleships, like gravel, like curbside snow one week after a storm. Was gray any improvement over beige?
"People feel that this is another dull color that doesn't show enough blue," said Steve Brandt, the retired Star Tribune reporter who launched the "Paint the Harriet bandshell blue!" petition on Change.org.
For Brandt, it was an echo of the morning in 2004 when he went for a run around the lake and caught his first glimpse of beige.
"The band shell had been transformed into a really dull color that just sort of made my stomach drop," he said. That unpleasant feeling lingered for the next 18 years, until the $2.3 million renovation project offered an opportunity to bring the blue back.
"It's certainly not the biggest issue in Minneapolis right now," he said. "But when you have a building that is a civic icon, you don't want to wrap it in pigskin. You want to dress it up."
Sitting on the shores of Lake Harriet, listening to live music on a lovely summer night, "it's one of the best experiences in Minneapolis," Brandt said. "A blue sky and a blue lake beyond and sailboats floating, and little kids running up the aisles and dancing to the music."
A blue sky, a blue lake and maybe one day soon, a blue band shell.
If people didn't care about their parks, they wouldn't care what color you painted them. No one knows this better than Cliff Swenson, the Park Board's director of design and project management.
"You want that feedback," he said. "We're not just saying, 'This is what you're going to get, see you later.' We're saying, 'This is the best we can do at this point; what are your thoughts?'"
There are more than 150 neighborhood parks in Minneapolis, and the Park Board is working on master plans for each one. As they work, citizen advisory panels work with them.
In the Corcoran neighborhood in south Minneapolis, planners decided to replace a dilapidated tennis court with a community garden.
Which sounded great, until the citizen advisory panel pointed out how valuable that unimpressive stretch of asphalt was to the neighborhood. That was where children learned to roller skate. Where rec center staff could wheel out portable basketball hoops for pickup games. It was the hub for neighborhood bicycle polo matches.
So, Swenson said, planners tweaked their plans and found room in the tiny park for gardens and bike polo, because that's what the neighborhood said it needed.
"What people might see as a kerfuffle — that's what we're supposed to do," Swenson said. "Just like the band shell. We're listening."
By the time his crews finish work at Lake Harriet, the band shell will be repaired and weatherized. Its electrical system will be upgraded. The windows will be glazed to protect the birds, and some of those windows will open to let southwest breezes cool the audience in summertime.
The band shell will be stained, not painted like previous band shells, because oil-based stain protects and preserves the cedar walls and roof better than paint. But a stain will never be as vibrant as a coat of paint, Swenson said, which makes it harder recreate that bygone shade of blue.
Crews won't start staining the band shell until after Labor Day, which gives the park's paint shop time to test new blues.
"Everybody wants the blue," Swenson said. "The question is: What is the blue?"