City, arts advisory board shop for a sculpture

By Burk Krohe

Manhattan finished construction on the roundabout at Bluemont Avenue and Fourth Street in the fall of 2010, but something was missing.

Before the project began, the City Commission removed from the proposal plans for a sculpture in the middle of the roundabout. Commissioners felt they could not justify the added cost of the sculpture at the time.

Mayor Loren Pepperd has said the roundabout looks unfinished with only a simple base structure—meant to hold a sculpture or wayfinding signs—in the center. A recently organized advisory group is trying to change that.

Jay Nelson and other members of the Arts and Humanities Advisory Board are planning the initial steps to find a sculpture for the roundabout. Nelson, vice chair of the board, said it was formed in February, and as a new board, had to define its mission. The first goal was obvious: to keep art of all forms alive in the city.

“We want to keep things like the MAC going,” said Nelson, who owns the Strecker-Nelson Gallery. “We want to keep the city band going and the arts and parks program.”

But the second priority became finding something appropriate for the roundabout.

“It was the intention all along,” Nelson said. “We feel we’re right in line with the original idea.”

It’s something Commissioner Jim Sherow has vocally supported. Sherow said a sculpture would speak to the pride, confidence and quality of life in the community.

“It speaks to the importance of art,” Sherow said.

Additionally, Nelson and city staff have noted a roundabout should have a “sight limiter” in the middle so drivers are looking for oncoming cars instead of looking across the roundabout.

However, it’s hard to say at this point what, if anything, will go there.

“As far as I’m concerned, I think that needs to be something that is interesting from afar but doesn’t require you to walk right up to it,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he and the board have already been approached with ideas. He said one is a very traditional representative sculpture, while the other is geometrical and “unexpected.”

The board is now charged with drafting a set of criteria via request for qualifications and request for proposal documents.

Currently, the city has some very basic guidelines for the piece. It would have to be something durable and low maintenance. Nelson said the city wouldn’t want something it has to paint every few years. The installation process of any sculpture also has to be considered.

Nelson said the objective is to disrupt traffic as little as possible.

Nelson said the board has a lot of writing to do, not to mention running the documents by the city’s legal department. He anticipates that those will be complete in a couple months.

The determining factor for the project will likely be funding, though.

Currently, $20,000 in city funds is set aside to complete the roundabout project. Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, said the funds are left over from the original project in 2010, although at the time much more was allocated. The $20,000 comes from a sales tax that goes to the north end transportation development district.

Hilgers noted the funds have to be used for a public improvement within the district and have no expiration date.

“It has to meet one of the definitions of projects listed,” Hilgers said. 

Commissioners are willing to commit the $20,000 to the project as a means of leveraging private funds. Since it requires no new funds to be allocated, Commissioner Wynn Butler said he could see spending “no more than $20,000.” Commissioner John Matta questioned city staff on how much it would cost to simply remove the existing structure in the middle of the roundabout.

Hilgers said it would likely cost at least $20,000 if not more. Commissioners seem in agreement that it’s worth trying to get something to improve the roundabout for that price.

“We’re off to a good start,” Nelson said. “The fact that the commission was that receptive was quite significant.”

Nelson said several individuals have already offered to donate to the project, but said a fundraising campaign can only start after the board has narrowed down some proposals.

“If you go out there with some nebulous ideas, most people aren’t willing to give money for some nebulous idea,” Nelson said.

Sherow said he’s confident Nelson and the board will be able to put together a good proposal and secure funding.

“If he says there are people in the community willing to give money then I believe him,” Sherow said.

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