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State frowns on city's plan to move Runestone replica

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Moving the granite replica of the Kensington Runestone from its long-held spot near Highway 27 is proving to be a monumental task.

It's something the city council has wanted to do for years, especially when the highway was reconfigured, which made it more difficult to get to the monument.

City leaders want to move the replica - which is 12 times larger than the original stone - to a safer, more accessible spot next to the Big Ole Viking statue on North Broadway.

But the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) takes a dim view of such a move, according to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven who updated the city council on the effort Monday night.

The city is planning to surface the Big Ole Central Park parking lot and make other improvements, such as moving the replica there.

The SHPO, however, views the replica as an historic tribute to 1950s era of community boosterism, Schoonhoven said. SHPO told city staff that if the replica is moved, it should be placed near another prominent entrance to serve its original purpose of welcoming people into town. Otherwise, SHPO says, its historic value would be ruined.

Council member Elroy Frank thought it was odd that the state would take such a keen interest in the replica but not in Big Ole, which has been moved twice before. He wondered what the state would do if the city simply stopped maintaining the replica since it is in such an inconvenient location.

When the council asked Schoonhoven what SHPO could do to prevent the replica from being moved, Schoonhoven said SHPO has the authority to make the process "very difficult." He said the city would have to demonstrate why other entry-point locations for the replica, such as by the interstate, were not feasible.

Schoonhoven estimated it would cost a couple thousand dollars to move the replica and a few thousand more to build the base. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has agreed to do the work.

The city approved agreed to call for bids on the project and told Schoonhoven to "re-open a dialogue" with SHPO about moving the monument.