Historic Lowry Hill fountain in line for major neighborhood donation

The Seven Pools Fountain at Thomas Lowry Park, currently blanketed in snow, has received a nearly $300,000 donation form the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association.

The Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association voted Feb. 5 to put about $300,000 toward repairing an historic fountain at a local park.

The successful vote to modify its city-approved neighborhood plan will redirect $297,425 toward reconstructing the Seven Pools Fountain at Thomas Lowry Park, located in a triangle created by Douglas, Colfax and Mt. Curve avenues. That amount includes about $225,000 that was previously loaned to affordable housing projects; the rules of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program allow neighborhood organizations to spend repaid loans on their own priorities.

About 2,100 notices of the plan modification vote were mailed to Lowry Hill residents three weeks before the meeting, LHNA Board President Michael Cockson said. Those notices prompted 29 residents to attend the Feb. 5 meeting, where they voted 27–2 in favor of amending the plan.

“This is an important asset to the neighborhood,” Cockson said.

The total cost of completely repairing the fountain, which was designed by Theodore Wirth and completed in 1925, is expected to be about $600,000. The remaining funds have not yet been raised.

“We are at the very, very beginning of this,” Cockson said.

Funding history

In 2008, the LHNA loaned out $225,000 in NRP dollars to affordable housing projects being built by Aeon at Franklin & Portland, according to Jack Whitehurst, a neighborhood specialist with the City of Minneapolis. Those funds were repaid in 2012.

After allocating the program income to the fountain, LHNA is left with about $94,500 in NRP funds earmarked for housing, Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst said because the LHNA plan had previously been reviewed and approved, the NRP Policy Board is not required to act on the modification. The city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department could request a review by the policy board but hasn’t done so at this time.

The neighborhood has previously invested heavily in Thomas Lowry Park, which was acquired by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in 1922 after a proposal for a 13-story apartment building on the site was rejected.

This won’t be the first time NRP dollars have been allocated to renovating the park.

In 1994, $300,000 in NRP funds was dedicated to fountain upgrades, improving paths and sidewalks, adding lighting and a sprinkler system.

When Park Board budget cuts in 2003 led to the water being shut off in the pools, neighbors raised $8,500 to keep water flowing during the summer, according to a history compiled by the Friends of Thomas Lowry Park.

In 2010, $11,000 in NRP dollars was used to put in new planting boxes and irrigation systems.

Park Board approval

Elizabeth Shaffer, president of Friends of Thomas Lowry Park, said they want to preserve the fountain feature even if it means significant fundraising. Shaffer noted the park was toward the bottom of the equity matrix MPRB uses to prioritize funding.

The group hired a landscape architect to bid out the project and found that renovating the fountain would cost about $450,000, while replacing it entirely would cost just under $600,000.

She said she’s hopeful Park Board commissioners would see the neighborhood’s commitment as a positive when they eventually seek approval. Any changes to the fountain would need MPRB approval.

Like all neighborhood parks in the city, Thomas Lowry Park is currently being reimagined. The MPRB Southwest Area Master Plan has two concepts for the park: one calls for restoring the Seven Pools and the other calls for getting rid of the pools altogether, making the space a natural play area.

Comments left on a concept that maintains the fountain at Thomas Lowry Park at a recent open house on the Southwest Area Master Plan hosted by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.
Comments left on a concept that maintains the fountain at Thomas Lowry Park at a recent open house on the Southwest Area Master Plan hosted by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Photo by Andrew Hazzard.

“Obviously, we would hate to see Theodore Wirth’s design filled in, but we understand that it’s an unique feature,” Shaffer said.

MPRB Assistant Superintendent Michael Schroeder said he felt grateful that a neighborhood organization would step forward to help preserve and maintain the unique pools.

“It’s great for us,” Schroeder said.

The Seven Pools Fountain at Thomas Lowry Park, like all pools in the system, is difficult to maintain.

In this case, the fountain is old and has been patched up a number of times. Schroeder said because of rules requiring MPRB to find the lowest-cost bid for a project, the neighborhood association’s commitment could give them more latitude in finding the right contractor.

“That would help us a lot,” he said.

Other neighborhood associations have come forward with funding for local parks, he said, and similar projects. In Loring Park, the neighborhood association has contributed to the maintenance of the Berger Fountain.