City ignores public, proceeds with plan previously rejected by Helen Marshall
[This summarizes prior events concerning the Civic Virtue statue and the Queens Boulevard plaza site, then presents new information concerning a bidding process that closed on May 18, 2015 for work at the plaza site.]
I am Robert LoScalzo, the media producer/activist who sued the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (“DCAS”) in 2013 to force it to comply with the Freedom of Information Law and turn over records pertaining to the controversial removal of the colossal 22-ton artwork statue “Triumph of Civic Virtue” from the Queens Boulevard public plaza site where it had stood since 1941, to a private Brooklyn graveyard. DCAS had removed the statue without consulting Queens Community Board 9 and against the will of area residents and officials, who did not want the statue removed.
As you may recall, I am also the one who discovered and exposed that City taxpayers paid $49,464.00 for a fine art conservator to provide “all labor, materials and equipment necessary for the conservation of the Civic Virtue sculpture,” plus another $49,801.00 for a fine art handling company to provide “all labor, equipment and material necessary and required to design and fabricate a custom armature [cage] to support and lift the Civic Virtue statue for its relocation to the Green-Wood Cemetery.” Contrary to what the City led the public to believe at the time, it was unnecessary to relocate the Civic Virtue statue to Green-Wood Cemetery in order to repair and restore it – and taxpayers need not have incurred the additional $49,801.00 expense to do so. Queens lost a valuable art asset, although taxpayers footed the bill to restore it.
After the Civic Virtue statue was removed and the public wondered what would happen to the Queens Boulevard plaza site, I am also the one who unearthed the disappointing plan devised by DCAS to convert the statue’s fountain base into a “planted ruin.” According to plans dated April 2, 2013 (PDF attached), "DCAS wishes to keep the original fountain as a planted ruin, a scenic backdrop to a busy and important intersection in the borough. … [T]he fountain, although left as a 'ruin', will be planted with grades and groundcovers and act as a landscape folly to enhance this prominent corner."
DCAS’s “planted ruin” plan was ridiculed on the popular QueensCrap web site, which declared: “Planned ‘Civic Virtue’ replacement a total embarrassment.”
DCAS’s “planted ruin” plan was also rejected by Helen Marshall, then Queens Borough President. Marshall’s spokesman Dan Andrews said “renderings that were presented to Marshall ‘were not acceptable to the borough president.’ ‘She would like to see it as a place where people can sit and reflect on the contributions of different women whose names she had wanted engraved there,’ Andrews said. The proposed renderings, Andrews said, did not include the women's memorial. Marshall would also like the fountain to be restored at the site, but the renderings did not include it. They called for flower plantings instead.” DNA Info
Concerned about the lack of any public process to plan the use of the Queens Boulevard plaza site and to consider the potential return of the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue, on April 8, 2014 the Civic Virtue Task Force met with Barry Grodenchik, a top aide to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (and now candidate for City Council District 23), and Nayelli Valencia Turrent, Katz’s Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, to discuss those issues. When Grodenchik asked if the Task Force had a “Plan B” in the event the statue would not be returned, the Task Force replied: “Institute a legitimate public process to plan the future use of the plaza site.” Grodenchik said he would discuss that with Katz and then get back to the Task Force. He never did.
On July 3, 2014 the Civic Virtue Task Force wrote to DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch about those same issues, asking (among other questions): “What opportunities are there for community input and planning, regarding the future use of the Plaza site and the potential return of Civic Virtue?” DCAS never answered the question, and never instituted any public planning process for the plaza site.
Which brings us to the news: My most recent Freedom of Information Law request to the Office of the Queens Borough President reveals that the NYC Department of Design and Construction (“DDC”) has already solicited bids for a project called “Planted Fountain Restoration” at the Queens Boulevard plaza site, the centerpiece of which is essentially the 2013 “planted ruin” plan devised by DCAS which Helen Marshall rejected. The deadline for contractors to submit bids for this work was May 18, 2015. As far as I am aware, this has not been reported anywhere.
According to the bid solicitation documents: “The project consists of creating a sitting area around the existing historic fountain. The fountain basin will be stabilized and waterproofed and turned into a planter, and the fountain steps will be reconstructed. Benches, lighting and pavement will be added to create an accessible plaza.”
The bid specifications also require a 9” x 18” bronze plaque displaying the inscription: “THIS FOUNTAIN PLAZA IS DEDICATED TO THE WOMEN OF QUEENS.”
A few observations:
• The bronze plaque refers to “this fountain plaza” – however, there won’t be any actual functioning fountain. What is left of the fountain will be buried under the flowers and plants. It is wrong to call this a “fountain plaza” when the fountain is in fact eliminated under this plan.
• The City is proceeding with this plan, despite not addressing reasons it was rejected by Helen Marshall. She had wanted the fountain to be restored, not planted over; and she had wanted the names of women engraved at the site.
• From the very beginning, the City’s plans to remove the Civic Virtue statue and to determine the future use of the plaza site have been secretly made by powers-that-be who have refused to implement any public planning process or to consider what the community and taxpayers actually want. DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch, DDC, Melinda Katz, Barry Grodenchik and Nayelli Valencia Turrent apparently are continuing this imperious policy of dictating the use of the plaza site and abandoning the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue in a private Brooklyn graveyard, contrary to what constituents and taxpayers want.
• The public has never asked for any planted ruin or dedication to women at the plaza site. On the other hand, the public has requested the return of the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue from its temporary loan to Green-Wood Cemetery.
• To be very clear: We could have had the newly-restored Civic Virtue statue returned to Queens Boulevard, standing on top of a newly-restored fountain base, with its waterworks turned on every day and fully operational – think mini “Trevi Fountain” on Queens Boulevard, and you get the idea. Instead, we’ll get a “planted ruin” and a bronze plaque, while the Civic Virtue statue – newly restored at taxpayer expense – remains abandoned in a private Brooklyn graveyard. That is lunacy, and an utter failure of Queens leadership.
• Melinda Katz laments the fact that Queens receives the lowest per capita Department of Cultural Affairs support among the boroughs. But by allowing a unique and colossal artwork such as Civic Virtue to be taken from the borough to a graveyard, to be replaced by a mediocre “planted ruin,” Queens only proves the borough’s true status as the laughingstock of this City’s cultural affairs.
The NYC Public Design Commission (PDC) may still have to approve any plan for the plaza site. A cursory review of all PDC agendas at the PDC web site from the year 2012 to the present time did not show any Queens Boulevard plaza site renovation on any PDC meeting agenda.
(1) If Helen Marshall rejected the “planted ruin” concept, and DCAS and DDC are now proceeding with essentially that plan, has Melinda Katz approved it? Or are DCAS and DDC doing whatever they want at the plaza site?
(2) Which contractor firm is the winning bidder for the “Planted Fountain” work at the plaza site? What is the total price of the winning bid? Has a contract actually been awarded and executed yet?
(3) Has the Public Design Commission approved the plans for the fountain/plaza? If not, when will it?
(4) Presuming that the PDC must approve any plan for the plaza site but has not yet done so, why would DCAS and DDC solicit bids for a specific plan for the plaza site, without first obtaining PDC’s approval of that plan?