City postpones art pedestal project, citing rising costs | government and politics

ELCO DAILY

ELKO — Proposed art shows in downtown Elko are being postponed after the Redevelopment Agency decided to focus on sidewalk renovations instead.

The RDA voted 3-1 to hold back on the pedestals after city planner Cathy Laughlin said bids could fetch over $100,000.

Although the RDA authorized city employees to solicit bids or obtain a competitive bid, Laughlin said she and the city’s civil engineer Bob Thiebault were concerned about the rising costs, which would include an additional 35% on the prevailing wage.

The art pedestal project was started in conjunction with Phase 1 of the Downtown Corridor renovation, which also included Centennial Tower and Centennial Park.

A block-end project landscaped the parking lots at Fourth and Sixth Streets and included four concrete slabs designed for 18-inch landings. Eventually, the pedestals should be housed by contract artists every two to three years in an agreement with the rotating artworks and sculptures in the city costing between $2,000 and $10,000 depending on the artist.

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The art pedestal concept was introduced to RDA 2019 by the Elko Arts and Culture Advisory Board to showcase work by artists, including those associated with the Burning Man Foundation. It would be similar to other Nevada cities that have rotating exhibits from those attending the event.

Laughlin said the city has expressed support for art proposals but has not yet received any applications. The closing date for entries is July 15th.

However, the final cost of the art pedestals could hamper progress on the entire corridor project, which is due to be completed in 2028, Laughlin added. The city receives $300,000 to $350,000 annually in tax increases that could be spent on the art pedestals if the RDA gave the green light to bidding.

“The more of these projects we do that cost $100,000, $200,000, $300,000; it only takes us further from our goal of completing the corridor,” Laughlin said. “We only have until 2028 to complete the corridor project.”

RDA members Clair Morris and Giovanni Puccinelli each expressed doubts about the further development of the art base due to rising steel and concrete costs. They indicated that the forthcoming sidewalk phase of the corridor project along the 400 and 500 blocks of the railroad and trade routes must be a priority due to safety concerns.

“Spending that kind of money to show Burning Man art doesn’t make sense to me. We have other projects down there like sidewalks and things that pose a bigger safety concern than this art,” Morris said. “I’m not saying that art should ever go away, but now is not the time.”

Puccinelli agreed with Morris. “Maybe we’ll take that money and walk with sidewalks, which is a safety issue and it worries me a lot. Maybe you’re kicking that rock down the street, I think that’s the best way to put it.

Morris, who made the request to move the art pedestals, added that the RDA could revisit them if the price of concrete and steel goes down, which he hopes. “But I just can’t imagine spending that much money on it.”

Morris and Puccinelli also suggested placing benches on the semicircular concrete slabs poured as placeholders for $7,500.

However, RDA member Mandy Simons and Arts and Culture Advisory Chairwoman Catherine Wines questioned the city’s earlier decision to add the slabs when the plinth project had already been approved.

Simons, who voted against the motion to move the bases, said there was “no point at all” in pouring the semi-circular concrete slabs months ago, “but it was the city that insisted.”

Thiebault explained that the decision to install the concrete was made with the expectation that it could be removed, but he wasn’t sure how thick the backing should be to support the weight of the base and art when the Blockend project was underway.

“There was no art to design around. There were too many questions and no answers back then,” he said. “It was decided at the time that we might do the cheapest thing we can do now, with the expectation that whatever we do it will be either overdeveloped or underdeveloped.”

Laughlin said benches could be installed on three of the four concrete slabs and one would be used to install a steel ball.

Wines told the RDA she recommended not pouring the slabs for months because she believed the project would be postponed. She also responded to Morris’ comment about the type of art that would be installed.

“I understand the reservations about the art of Burning Man, but it doesn’t have to come from there, it doesn’t have to be,” she said. “We’ve got people in Salt Lake, sculptors, who might be going to submit something. All of Burning Man’s artwork does not represent crazy, naked hippies. It’s not all terrible. I think that’s an important part of the kind of culture we’re trying to build downtown.”

Wines also expressed her doubts about installing benches on the slabs because downtown businesses “have called for them to be removed because the only people sitting on them are homeless people.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever sit on them, and I think a year from now we’re going to come to you and say, ‘Do you want to remove the benches? Homeless people sleep on them all the time.”

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