Providence is looking for buyer for Columbus statue again after initial proposal generates little interest

THE PROVIDENCE COUNCIL OF PARKS COMMISSIONER voted on Oct. 26 to reissue a public solicitation for buyers for the statue of Christopher Columbus, after the initial invitation elicited only two responses. / HAPPENING RHODE ISLAND

PROVISION – Despite heartfelt pleas from local residents and Italian heritage groups to save the Christopher Columbus statue, only two people offered to buy it from the city, at less than 10% of its estimated value.

In light of the lack of interested buyers, the city is renewing its solicitation for proposals, as approved by the Providence Board of Parks Commissioners on Oct. 26. The decision continues the longstanding saga of what to do with the historic but controversial cityscape, which was taken off its Columbus Square pedestal in June 2020 after being repeatedly vandalized.

Sculpted by the French artist who also designed the Statue of Liberty using silver from Gorham Manufacturing Co. from Providence, some say the 1863 statue exemplifies artistry and local history. Others condemn it as a symbol of racism and genocide.

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Faced with conflicting points of view, the city has struggled to decide where to go and to whom. Although the city’s special commission for commemorative works had previously recommended that the city sell the piece at auction — a process known in the museum world as a divestiture — and use the profits to reinvest in the neighborhood, auction houses have been reluctant to take on the task of selling. the piece because of its controversial nature, Wendy Nilsson, superintendent of city parks, said earlier.

The park committee voted in July to issue a public solicitation to find a potential buyer or long-term tenant for the statue. The request for proposals, which closed on Sept. 26, left open the price and use of the statue, specifying only that it “must be properly preserved, protected and not damaged, altered, manipulated or melted down in any way.”

One of two responses came from state history laureate Patrick T. Conley, who, through his nonprofit Heritage Harbor Foundation, offered to purchase the statue for $25,000. However, Conley’s bid did not explain what he intended to do with the statue, which is one of the questions needed in the city’s application.

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Nilsson said at the meeting that the city was “intrigued” by the offer but did not have enough information to make a decision.

The other offer, for $7,800, came from Mary Brimmer, a North Kingstown resident and city councilor who wanted the statue displayed at her South Carolina retirement home. Brimmer’s bid also included $1 million in liability insurance and coverage for travel and storage costs, noting that the gated community in which the statue would be placed included 24/7 security guards.

The reissued city offer, which had not yet been published Friday, gives Brimmer and Conley the chance to reapply with more information, while also expanding the offering to other interested groups and auction houses. The parks commission again chose not to set a minimum purchase price, although Ray Rickman, chairman of the special commission for memorial works, urged them to take no less than the estimated value of $250,000-$500,000.

“We’ve got something here,” Rickman said at the meeting, pointing to the sculptor’s praise and the statue’s value as a work of art. “I think we should try to get as much money as possible for it.”

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The reissued offer had not yet been published on Friday.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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