“We need to look forward, not backward,” said Councilman-elect Chris Voccio in offering his restrained view of the nearly $620,000 metallic artwork now sitting 30 feet high—inside and somewhat blocked from view by a ring of traffic signs—at Centennial Circle.
The new artwork has ruffled some feathers given the cost, even though the city’s contribution of almost $85,000 was committed by the mayor and city lawmakers two years ago before the current budget crisis caused in part by the still unresolved fight over casino cash payments to the state by the Seneca Nation.
Councilman Ken Tompkins is far less restrained than Mr. Voccio in criticizing the investment of public money, most of it coming from the Greenway Commission and the state, to erect the sculpture when jobs and services are being cut to deal with the city’s growing cash problems.
“I guess we’re now stuck with it like the ($44 million) train station,” says Mr. Tompkins, referencing the huge investment to build the state-of-the-art train station that many experts see as underperforming given the cost and the hype.
The new metallic artwork also suffers from being partially obscured by traffic signs at the roundabout circle at Rainbow Blvd. and First St. While the artwork is more easily seen by visitors on foot, it is hard to get a full view from the autos going around the circle, and straining to catch a look could be a safety issue.
If there is a safety or visual problem, Councilman Andrew Touma said he is open to moving the statue to another location in the city.
Mr. Touma says when lawmakers agreed to support the sculpture two years ago things were different with the city’s finances. Now, he concedes things have changed because of the Seneca decision to withhold casino cash from the state, contending the compact terms for paying the state and the host communities have expired. The dispute is headed to arbitration with no resolution in sight.
The thinking was there is a lack of symbolism in our city, and most cities have artwork and statues to add to their appeal and tell a bit of history, Mr. Touma says. “It is here now, and so we should try to make the best of it,” he says. “And if there is a push to relocate it, I’m open to that discussion.”
The controversial artwork was commissioned to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty signed in 1909 and was dedicated over the summer by officials from both sides of the border.
“I’m a conservative guy,” says incoming lawmaker Voccio, who admittedly would rather not spend time criticizing things that have happened in the past and looks forward to making better decisions in the future.
“It is here now, the money is gone, and we need to move on,” says Mr. Voccio. As for the $44 million train station, Mr. Voccio was equally restrained, saying “we need to make it as valuable as possible,” a view that seems consistent with those who believe the train station has fallen far short of bringing the economic benefits suggested in the hype leading up to construction.
As for the physical attractiveness of the Centennial Circle artwork, he takes the same conservative and restrained approach.
“As in all artwork, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Mr. Voccio says, but he stops short of giving his opinion on the eye appeal of the $620,000 statue resting behind the traffic signs.