25 years of flowers: Aim set at 248 baskets  to be spread throughout downtown Austin

Published 6:45 am Thursday, November 21, 2019

The annual campaign to raise money for the downtown flower baskets got its official kickoff Wednesday morning at Piggy Blues.

The flower basket committee is aiming to raise $45,000 to go toward the baskets in the 25th year of the project. That breaks down to $19,500 from the city of Austin and $10,000 from Hormel Food Corps, with a hope to raise $16,000 from private donations.

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“We’re hoping to bring in $16,000 from citizens and we do that every year,” said Bonnie Rietz, who first spearheaded the drive in 1995 as a member of the Austin City Council. “It’s amazing how successful it is.”

The number of baskets from that first year has grown from 164 in 1995 to 248 this year, which was the number of baskets along Austin’s downtown streets last year.

The project is a representation of Austin’s community pride Rietz said.

“It’s wonderful for people who live here,” she said. “They come downtown and have they have that feeling of pride.”

Austin Mayor Tom Stiehm said the flowers greeting people acts as an ambassador of sorts for visitors.

“We like the flower project because it’s the first thing people bring up when they come to Austin,” Stiehm said. “It really enhances our downtown.”

A man rides past one of the many hanging flower baskets downtown Austin. Photo courtesy of Tim Rietz

The long-term project has been an enduring staple of downtown Austin, having survived some harsher environments at times. In 2003, when Rietz was serving as mayor of Austin, the state went through a round of deep cuts to the budget.

That cut slashed away at Local Government Aid and forced the Austin City Council to abandon the project, but Rietz brought forward a compromise.

“The council said, ‘we can’t do it,’” Rietz remembered. “I went to the board and said, ‘if we bring in half from the community, can we go forward?’ Two weeks later we had the community side.”

And it’s been well worth it. Gretchen Boldt, owner of Hilltop Greenhouse and Farm, has been working with the city for years on arranging the baskets. She admits to the connection the flower baskets hold.

“They encourage people to linger a little longer,” she said. “It’s so much fun for our family and the community.”

For anybody who wants to donate they are encouraged to send a check to: The City of Austin, C/O Tom Dankert, 500 Fourth Ave. NE, 55912, Austin MN.

Rietz also noted that the money donated can be donated in somebody’s name to celebrate a special occasion.