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Is Manitowoc Really Asking its Residents to Pay for Corporate Art?

It’s been a while since I’ve been in Manitowoc, so the “awe-inspiring” sight of seeing two giant Bud cans and one giant Bud bottle when I drive down Washington Avenue hasn’t come into my view in quite a while.

Would I be disappointed to see them gone?  Maybe, but I also have to ask what were the city fathers thinking when they thought that using tax dollars to save them?

Last fall, it was decided a Manitowoc landmark would stay put, thanks to a huge community outcry.

The city stepped in so the iconic Budweiser paintings on silos could stay.

This after the silos owner, Riverland Agriculture, tore down the banners and was set to sandblast the paintings in November.

“The city took a position awhile ago through our ordinances that they were non-conforming signs and Riverland did what they had to do and started taking them down,” said Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels.

But Nickels quickly heard from community members who wanted to save the Anheuser-Busch beer cans.

“We had an outcry from the citizens. I received on my own well over 1,000 emails in a 48 hour period to keep the murals,” Nickels said.

So he struck a deal.

“We met with Riverland to see what we could do to save them,” said Nickels.

He told Riverland Agriculture the city would pay up to $25 thousand to cancel the work. The city council approved the payment earlier this week.

“The cancellation costs were loss of profit, they had vehicles they were sending up from Salt Lake City and different areas to power wash that needed to be returned,” Nickels said.

After the murals were saved, the mayor encouraged residents to help raise money for the costs of cancellation – plus preservation and maintenance of the murals.

“I’ve never intended to use tax dollars to maintain, preserve or the cancellation costs for the beer bottles. The citizens wanted to keep it, and I believe through fundraising efforts they can,” said Nickels.

But Nickels says the money’s been trickling in slowly. Initially, only $2,500 was received from from Larry’s Distributing, which sells Anheuser-Busch products.

This week, another $50 came in. But other than that, no other money has been donated by those who wanted to keep the murals in the city’s downtown.

$2,550?  That’s it?

Oh, I’m sure more checks will be in the mail after this story was published in local Lakeshore media, but the reality of the situation is two fold here: 1)  No one still knows how much it will cost to maintain the murals in the future — also on the taxpayer dime it would seem.  2)  This was an emotional decision not a fiscal one, sadly, that is often is par for the course given Manitowoc’s past spending decisions.

The city is still millions in debt due to bonding from unneeded projects during the Kevin Crawford days and it decides it can blow $25,000 on what essential is corporate art.  Sure it does.

Riverland had maintained them for years because they were a storage facility for Anheuser-Busch for its upper-Midwest barley supply.  That stopped a few years when the facility was closed and the owners were told to scrap the murals under public advertising laws (giant beer bottles cause kids to drink in Manitowoc or something like that…) and then a group came along and said to save them as “public art.”

We have strange leadership running the city up in Manitowoc.  Sadly, I don’t see that ending anytime soon.

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