From pretty addition to rusty eyesore

Windom neighbors are looking for a way to repair or remove a deteriorating public sculpture

— It was built 10 years ago to offset the bland exterior of a Cub Foods grocery store. Today, the oak leaf-shaped bus stop at Nicollet Avenue & 59th Street is its own eyesore.

A lot of the lime green paint has bubbled up and begun to chip off. Some strips of paint just hang. Rust covers much of the structure and its accompanying leaf-shaped benches.

The deterioration has gotten to the point that the Windom Community Council has contacted the city seeking a solution. They want it fixed or removed.

“It’s been getting worse and worse and worse for years,” said Mary Petersen, a member of the Community Council today and when the leaf was installed in 1997. “It’s getting to be this big rust heap.”

Meanwhile, the leaf’s artist feels slighted, and the property owner was surprised to learn of its condition.

The sculpture originated with the Cub Foods store. As the big box was being developed in the early 1990s, neighborhood residents were concerned it wouldn’t fit in with the naturalistic look of the area. There wasn’t much landscaping.

“That’s when the trees were little,” said Gale Running, the property’s owner.

At the time, an idea was floated around to put up a public sculpture that would double as a bus stop. Running said it was very much a movement of then-11th Ward Council Member Doré Mead, who ensured Cub Foods would pay for much of the structure.

It took a bit of strong-arming — cost concerns came and went, as well as several years. The bus stop was part of site plan conditions approved in 1994, but in 1996, it still hadn’t been built. It wasn’t until after a public safety and regulatory services committee order to Cub Foods threatening the revocation of the stores’ licenses that any action was taken.

The art stop finally was installed in November 1997. In a news release at the time, Mead called the sculpture “a significant contribution to the identity and appearance of the neighborhood.”

‘Holey moley’

Eight years later, the leaf’s artist, Marcia McEachron, took a friend to Windom to show off her work. What she found horrified her.

“It was like, holey moley — isn’t anyone paying attention to it?” McEachron said. “It’s a big slap in my face, to have my stuff ignored.”

She said she called several people at the time, including Running, who also helped finance the leaf’s construction. She said Running at the time told her he’d look into it. But nothing happened, McEachron said, and she said she decided to wait for someone else to take action. By herself, she felt she could do nothing.

The sculpture was as prepared for the weather as it could be, McEachron said. It was powdercoated and had a layer of polyurethane on it, but what’s there now can happen to all outdoor sculptures. Salt seeping into paint chips caused the paint to bubble up, she said.

The sculpture’s current look could have been prevented, she said, had maintenance been done. The treatments used in 1997 weren’t expected to last more than 10 years.

When first contacted by the Southwest Journal, Running said he had no idea of the leaf’s condition and that he was surprised it was deteriorating.

“Maybe it is time to pull it out,” Running said at the time. “We definitely don’t want it being an eyesore.”

Three days later, he said he’d visited the site and decided the rust was bad enough that something had to be done. But he was less convinced removal was the answer after a woman sitting below the leaf said she preferred it over the glass-box bus shelter a few feet away.

“I thought, ‘Maybe we should [repaint] it,’” Running said.

He said he’d be in touch with Cub Foods and McEachron to figure out options.

That’s good news for the sculptor. McEachron said the structure is in good condition, that it just needs $1,000 and a few days of work to be back in pristine form, she said.

“I don’t want to see it dumped,” she said. “It would break my heart.”

The neighborhood’s request

Petersen, of the Windom Community Council, said she’s been hearing an increase in complaints from neighbors about the leaf, which is what motivated her to have the Council send a letter to Steve Poor, the city’s zoning administrator.

The letter, sent late last month, asked Poor to consider ways to restore the leaf — referred to as a blight on the community — to its original condition or to replace it with another bus shelter. What the Council doesn’t want, Vice President Breanne Dalnes said, is leaving people without an extra spot to wait for the bus.

Poor could not be reached for comment.

Looking back, Petersen said the leaf might not have been worth all the hassle it took to get built. After all, this is Minnesota, and weather conditions don’t always agree with a mostly open bus shelter.

“It didn’t work,” Petersen said.