Charlottesville plans to seek proposals to remove the West Main Street statue commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition.
City Council discussed the statue in a larger work session about the West Main Streetscape project on Wednesday.
The statue depicts explorers Meriwether Lewis, who was born in Albemarle County, and William Clark, accompanied by Shoshone interpreter Sacagawea.
Native Americans have described its depiction of Sacagawea in a crouching, subordinate position, as defensive while others claim she is tracking.
The statue was donated to the city in 1919 by Paul Goodloe McIntire, who also donated the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and one at the University of Virginia of George Rogers Clark. UVa recently announced plans to remove the Clark statue and the city is seeking relief from a court order barring its removal of the Confederate statues.
The council directed staff to create a plan for the removal of the statue in November after consulting with Native Americans and some of Sacagawea’s descendants, who traveled to Charlottesville from Idaho.
The statue’s fate is complicated because of its connection to the West Main Streetscape project. The project, which will cost $49.3 million, including $31.5 million in construction, will redesign West Main between Jefferson Park Avenue and Ridge-McIntire Road.
As part of the project, the statue was proposed to be moved about 20 feet southwest to an area that will be transformed into a pocket park. City staff estimated the shift would cost about $50,000, which is included in the total cost of the streetscape project.
The relocation was part of the first phase of construction, expected to start in 2021.
The streetscape project is funded through local money and the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Smart Scale and revenue-sharing programs.
If the city uses state money for the removal, it would fall under restrictions by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Jeanette Janiczek, the city’s urban construction initiative program manager, said in that case the city would have to remove the statue, store it and then reinstall it under state regulations at a cost of $125,000.
“It would be much less to remove it and throw it in the dump than to remove it, store it and then put it back on the pedestal,” city engineer Jack Dawson said.
To remove complications related to spending state money on the statue’s removal, Janiczek said staff’s recommendation was to use city funds to remove the statue before the streetscape project started. The state would play no role in the removal if only local funds are used.
“The one thing I’m against is wasting local or state dollars to move it six feet temporarily until we move it someplace else entirely,” Councilor Sena Magill said.
The council asked for information on the cost to remove the statue with local funds while supporting a request for proposals for people or organizations to do so. Mayor Nikuyah Walker proposed that the RFP ask for information about what organizations want to do with the statue and how it would be contextualized in any public displays.
Prior to the discussion about the statue, city staff provided a general update on the timeline and funding for the project that has been in development since 2013.
The city has so far secured $27.8 million for the project. Of that, $7.3 million is from the state and $20.6 million comes from local sources. The city has applied for $10.3 million in additional state funding and $11.1 million has not yet been sought.
The project is divided into four sections. The first is from Ridge Street to Sixth Street Northwest at a total cost of $16.7 million, including $9.8 million in construction.
Phase two is from Sixth Street Northwest to 8th Street Northwest with an $11.1 million price tag, including $7.3 million in construction.
Phase three is from Eighth Street Northwest to Roosevelt Brown Avenue. It will cost $10.4 million, of which $7.3 is for construction.
The final phase is between Roosevelt Brown and Jefferson Park avenues. It would cost $9 million with $5.8 million of construction.
Moving public and private utilities underground and acquiring right of way would occur from 2021 to 2024. Construction would occur in 2024. Design is starting later this year and will run through the end of 2022.
The project will come with ongoing higher maintenance costs. A 2017 public works study estimated it costs about $57,000 a year to maintain the stretch of West Main. The new design would cost $200,000 a year.
The Parks and Recreation Department would be in charge of trash removal, sweeping and cleaning the area. The additional work would require 3.5 new employees and extra equipment at a cost of $398,510 in the first year.
Janiczek said if the project doesn’t move forward, the city still needs to address other maintenance issues that have been put on hold with the expectation that the streetscape was on the horizon. Among them are paving, installing curb ramps and replacing signals and water and gas lines.
“We’ve been deferring it thinking this would happen,” she said.
The council supported a value engineering study that would examine the corridor and design to determine how to cut costs and the most efficient materials to install. Janiczek said the study is a state and federal requirement and would cost about $41,000 through an on-call contract with RK&K Civil Engineering.
The next steps for the project are updating the project website, coordinating with VDOT on the first two phases and holding a public meeting on the design.