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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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