Hendersonville City Council members did what elected leaders often do when faced with a decision that carries the risk of a big public blowback. They booted it.
Faced with the choice of making a snap judgment on two major sculptures downtown, council members said they needed more time to choose a piece of art that would anchor Main Street's northern gateway for 20 years or more.
The City Council authorized two public art pieces as part of the city's $1.4 million makeover of the 500 and 600 blocks of Main Street, the third and final streetscape project the city has done. One is a fountain at the First Citizens plaza at Sixth and Main (budgeted at $70,000) and the other a gateway piece in the Umi parking lot at the northwest corner of Seventh and Main ($40,000).
After watching a presentation of the three finalists by Main Street director Lew Holloway, council members said they had too much at stake and too little time to make a decision of such magnitude.
"This is a big decision and it's very new to us, and to make a decision tonight I'm not comfortable with it," said Councilman Ron Stephens.
The Sixth and Main fountain finalists were Berry Bate of Asheville, Wayne Trapp of Boone and Joaquin Palencia of Makati City, Philippines. The Seventh and Main gateway finalists were Jim Gallucci of Greensboro, Phil Proctor of Atlanta and Bruce White of Dekalb, Ill.
Council members dropped Palencia and Gallucci from the competition, leaving two finalists for each piece.
Council members reacted favorably to Bate's body of work, which includes metal rails at Jump Off Rock and Chimney Rock State Park and other work at the Biltmore estate and Grove Park Inn in Asheville, but were lukewarm to the specific model she made for Hendersonville.
Council members said they would be interested in selecting an artist and then talking in more detail about changes to the proposed work.
"Can the public be involved?" asked Eva Ritchey, who owns Once Upon a Sign on Main Street. "I just think it would raise excitement if there was a place they could go and say, I like this one, I like that one."
The council agreed to post photos of the finalists' models on the city website but decided against opening up the process to a broad public hearing, citing time constraints.
The models are available for the public to see in a third floor conference room of City Hall, and will be posted on the city's website.
Holloway said he welcomed the council's input and would work with the members to get them more information as the decision process moves forward.
"Given the inherent challenges of trying to choose public art, I thought it was a great discussion," he said.
City engineers said the city needs to make a decision on the public art pieces as soon as possible because they're an integral part of the streetscape improvement and because the art work in some cases requires a specific material around it.
The city plans to let a contract for the Main Street work in December with work scheduled to be completed by mid-May.