A Hot Day Downtown


It’s a hot July day in downtown Minneapolis – the midday sun is blazing through thin clouds and heating up the streets. But you might get a bit of cooling mist by standing next to the fountain in front of the Hennepin County Government center.

If you do get some relief you should feel lucky, because that fountain has almost disappeared, and more than once.

The fountain is as old as the building, which opened in 1975. But it’s always been problematic, costing the county over $20k a year to operate and maintain. And it’s had a tendency to leak… into the corridors and offices underneath.

No one today seems to know exactly when the drips began, but no doubt many municipal employees had to sponge off their desks over the decades. In 2012, engineers advised the county to remove it entirely and re-do the whole plaza at a cost of $2.6 million; that plan was rejected. In 2015, more leaks, another plan was floated to replace the whole thing, and again officials opted for repairs. In 2016, Hennepin County finally bit the bullet: a complete renovation to the tune of $3.5 million. That seemed to do the trick – until a “bonding problem” was found in 2018, necessitating more upgrades. Four years later, things seem to be staying dry.

It was all worth it, in my opinion. The beautiful 70s design of the plaza and fountain is today one of the few bright spots in the downtown of a troubled city. You can sit there watching the business of the metropolis flows around you (City Hall is next door) and feel like maybe your society and its government are making some sense after all. Positive things are happening. It’s a big open sky, up there.

And no, those buildings aren’t melting; I used a 180 degree fisheye lens to pull the whole scene together. I love the distortion and the slightly surreal mood it creates.

8 Replies to “A Hot Day Downtown”

  1. First, beautiful photos. I love the fisheye effect. Second, it’s weird how much public money goes into things. The fountain costing the county over $20k a year to operate and maintain, the leaks etc, then a 3k fix. And I’m trying to save enough money for a fisheye.

  2. Interesting use of fisheye, I do like that image. There were a lot of cool designs back in the 1970s which are now showing their age. Hope they don’t all get demolished

    1. There’s a dangerous window of time during which a building is considered “dated” and is associated with a period of time many people seem to want to forget. If the building survives demolition during that time, it has a chance of becoming “historic” or “classic”. The 70s are in the process of becoming cool again.

  3. Great photo, Jim! I love the black and white. The detail in the water is fantastic, too! It seems all cities have the same problems. Great ideas, poor planning! – Sharon

    1. Hardly in a big city is ever really “planned” in a way that turns out as intended, and survives the test of time. It’s constant evolution, by trial and error.

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