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Done deal: Historic Grain Belt sign may be re-lit by next year

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August Schell Brewing Company is celebrating its purchase of the iconic Grain Belt beer sign on Nicollet Island with the release of a new beer.

The New Ulm-based brewery, which owns and brews Grain Belt beer, announced Monday it recently finalized a deal to buy the sign, with the goal of relighting it by the summer of 2017.

It's been dark since 1975, the brewery says, except for a few times it was briefly re-lit, the Star Tribune explains.

And to mark the occasion, Grain Belt will be releasing a new brew in April. The beer – Lock & Dam Lager – is named after a nearby landmark on the Mississippi River.

“Grain Belt got its start right here on the Mississippi, powered by St. Anthony Falls and the dam,” Ted Marti, president and descendant of brewery founder August Schell, said in the release. “We are proud to honor that heritage with a brew inspired by the place and hardworking people who gave us our start.”

The lock and dam helped power the original Grain Belt brewery in northeast Minneapolis, the brewery says. The copper lager with a "crisp flavor profile" will be available in six-packs and 12-packs of bottles, as well as kegs, this spring. By summer, people will be able to buy it in 16-ounce cans.

A long time coming

Since August Schell bought the Grain Belt brand in 2002, it has been working to acquire the sign – and the land it stands on – in hopes of restoring and relighting it.

The beer company is working with local historical consultants to get the sign named to the National Register of Historic Places to help preserve and protect the sign in perpetuity.

The consultants – Hess Roise and Company – worked to restore the old Grain Belt brewery in northeast, and helped renovate the North Star Blankets sign downtown.

“It’s a gem, a bodacious Minneapolis landmark — and a rare survivor among the once common super-sized signs that advertised products and attractions across the United States," Charlene Roise, president of Hess Roise and Company, said in the release. "It deserves to join the iconic Las Vegas sign in Nevada on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Grain Belt beer was first brewed in the 1890s by Minneapolis Brewing Company, according to the beer's website. The sign was originally constructed in 1941 atop the Marigold Ballroom on Nicollet Avenue, but was relocated to Nicollet Island in 1950, Growler Magazine said.

The porcelain-faced sign is about 50-feet wide and 40-feet tall, and contains more than 800 feet of neon tubing and 1,100 incandescent lamps, the magazine noted.

The Star Tribune looks at the long history of the Grain Belt sign. Read more about it here.

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