After nearly six years, the city of Knoxville is almost ready to break ground on renovations and to install a $1.25 million sculpture at the Cradle of Country Music Park.
But an effort to save several downtown trees could stall the already-delayed project for another six months.
The Knoxville City Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution to pause the Public Arts Committee’s sculpture project to figure out how to preserve mature trees at the park on the northeast corner of Gay Street and Summit Hill Drive.
In 2018, the Knoxville City Council approved approximately $500,000 for the creation of the “Pier 865” sculpture, an interactive piece featuring a pavilion with winding arches. Once built, it will be the city’s largest and most expensive piece of contemporary public art.
The project requires the removal of five mature willow-oak trees to accommodate installation. There are plans to plant several native trees in the area, but some residents believe this is not enough.
In the proposed resolution, councilors Seema Singh and Amelia Parker call on the city to halt the project, citing the city’s commitments to climate change mitigation, downtown’s dwindling canopy cover and the negative effects of heat islands.
“The existing mature trees in the park are 35-40 years old, and their environmental and social benefits cannot be offset within the next 35-40 years by planting saplings,” says the proposed resolution.
They are proposing that the project be put on hold for six months to amend the plan “to preserve as many of the mature trees as reasonably possible in the Cradle of Country Music Park” with input from the Public Arts Committee, the engineering department, the parks and recreation department and community stakeholders.
A Change.org petition has gathered more than 750 signatures in support of preserving the trees, and activists plan to show support for the resolution at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
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“While we’re in favor of public art, we don’t want to lose our trees that currently help frame the corner of Gay St. and protecting Summit Hill Drive from rising downtown temperatures,” petition organizer Julia Roy wrote.
The total cost of the project is $1.25 million, according to a document provided by the city: $500,000 from the city’s Public Art Committee; $500,000 from the city’s downtown improvement fund and the parks and recreation department; $167,000 from the state and visit Knoxville; and $83,000 from the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.
The city of Knoxville was unavailable for comment as of Tuesday when asked for an update on the project Friday.
David Brace, the city’s chief operating officer and deputy mayor, told Knox News in June that pre-qualified contractors will begin bidding on the concrete base portion of the project in June or July.
Arts & Culture Alliance executive director Liza Zenni said at the time that she hoped the sculpture would be assembled by the end of the year.