FARGO — While Fargo considers what to do with the Civic Plaza around the new City Hall, there's first things first.
By this fall, the restored, weather-proofed "Sodbuster" sculpture needs to be placed in the plaza to meet the terms of a $143,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Service.
The 24-foot, 1,300 pound sculpture, valued at about $500,000, has been restored by the McKay Lodge Conservation Library in Oberline, Ohio, and is ready to go.
Scott Bishop of Bishop Land Design suggested to the Fargo City Commission on Monday night, May 6, that it should be permanently placed just north of the library on the plaza and that the location likely wouldn't interfere with other future work on the plaza. It previously was displayed at the corner of Main Avenue and Broadway from 1982 to 2002 before it was put in storage after weather damage and cracks formed in it from the nearby train traffic.
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"We want to honor the commitment," Bishop said about placing the sculpture this year. The Great Plains Art Museum, which has been helping with the project, received a one-year extension from the museum institute last year, said director Andy Maus. He also reinforced the view that it should be placed "before the snow flies."
Commissioners seemed to agree and will make a final decision at a future meeting.
Commissioner John Strand said he didn't realize the city commissioners had authorized the Luis Jimenez sculpture in 1979. "They should be commended for that," he said. "We need a plaza full of artwork. This is a good start."
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said he didn't realize the extent of the work done by the late and famed Jimenez, who also had created among other sculptures the "Bronco" that stands outside the Denver airport.
Since "Sodbuster," which shows a determined farmer and a pair of oxen plowing a field, was Jimenez's first outdoor public sculpture, Piepkorn said it was a "valuable" piece of art.
Strand also brought up the Ten Commandments monument that remains on the plaza. He said what to do with that should also be considered when working on the plaza design.
"It should be a discussion point. We can't dance around it," Strand said.
City Attorney Erik Johnson said there is a city law that was passed by a past commission that states any monument in place for more than four years has to remain in the same place, which would mean the monument would have to stay on the plaza unless the city ordinance was changed.
Meanwhile, Bishop also told the commissioners about a community survey and preliminary plans for the rest of the plaza that he developed with input from numerous groups, businesses and residents.
In receiving more than 500 responses to the survey, he said 80 percent of the respondents wanted the plaza to be a venue for public events with 65 percent adding it should be a community gathering space.
Most of the responses came from the 18- to 35-year-old age group and from downtown residents, he said.
The survey also found that people wanted green space and "lots of trees" as well as brick, with water fountains, lighting, sculptures and art and native flowers and plants. The survey also indicated that people wanted outdoor seating, public bathrooms, a winter garden and be pedestrian friendly and welcoming to all.
Bishop's plan calls for more of a walkway atmosphere along 2nd Avenue North from the soon to be built community plaza by Block 9 on Broadway to City Hall and the Red River. Another major idea of the plan is a pedestrian and bike bridge crossing over the street by City Hall to give access to the river, which is no longer as available with the new flood wall.
The plan also calls for a lift bridge across the river to add the connection to Moorhead.
Adding another piece to the plan is a proposed new Performing Arts Center that a committee has decided would be best suited by tearing down the Fargo Civic Center and placing it there.
Bishop said he sees a two-step process for the plaza. First, he said should be advancing a design plan, approved by the commission, then figuring out the budgeting and timeframe.
But first "Sodbuster" will find its new home.