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A proposal to turn an iconic piece of Roswell history into art barely got off the ground at a Roswell City Council meeting on Thursday.
The council voted 6-4 to commission local artist Josh Berry to renovate the long-defunct Cold War-era rocket-shaped slide that has stood for years on the playground of Spring River Park and Zoo.
The rocket was removed from the park in 2018 after it was determined that it was unsafe, and the city council voted to set aside $30,000 to turn it into public art. A new rocket slide was placed in the park in 2019.
Berry said after the meeting that the old rocket had been operating on a site at the Spring River Zoo for more than two years.
Berry’s proposal to make LED-lit sculptures from old rockets was selected through a request for proposal process in March 2020, but the outbreak of the pandemic has resulted in a freeze on non-essential spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. Last summer, the city manager and the Roswell Museum reopened the project and commissioned Berry to make a scale model of his concept.
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The artist suggested refurbishing the metal rocket and adding lighting and trim. The proposal did not include a location for the sculpture, although during discussions, lawmakers said suggested locations would be the corner of North and East Sixth Streets near the Roswell Transit Building or the southeast corner of the Roswell Convention Center parking lot.
Despite their reservations about the arts project, MPs Angela Moore and Jenny Best vote with Margaret Kennard, Jacob Roebuck, Daniel Lopez and Barry Foster $75,000 in commission.
Voting against the committee were MPs Jason Perry, Juan Oropesa, Savino Sanchez and Judy Stubbs.
While cost is an issue, Oropesa, Perry and Stubbs said they felt the proposal was incomplete and could not be voted on as-is.
Oropesa noted that the proposal was on the Council’s February agenda, but was removed from the agenda that night without explanation or protest.
“Based on past practice, I can only speculate that it was removed because we needed more information,” Oropesa said.
He said he expected the proposal to return to the General Committee for more information and review before returning to the full council, which did not meet in February.
The proposal was added to Thursday’s plenary agenda as a supplementary item after the agenda was initially posted on the city’s website.
“What changes made it so important that we were asked to act on this issue tonight?” Oropesa asked.
He repeatedly asked Caroline Brooks, director of the Roswell Museum, if she could guarantee the $75,000 was the entire city’s spending on the project and would not ask for more.
Every time Oropesa asked for an answer, Brooks said she and Berry would keep the city council informed if costs might increase.
“At this point, we feel that $75,000 seems like a realistic amount based on the rising cost of metal that will be added to the sculpture during the creation process, in addition to a considerable amount of in-situ pouring of foundations and site preparation, built-in buffer,” she said.
Oropesa then said he would ask rhetorical questions to reach a conclusion. He listed a range of issues, suggesting that the proposal is being considered now because one MP wants to help another, or because some MPs believe that if considered later, the newly elected MP will not be seated in April Vote for it.
Lopez, Kennard and Stubbs all lost their re-election bids, and Roebuck chose not to run.
Congressman Best reiterated Oropesa’s latter line of questions when discussing Berry. She told him that if the council doesn’t approve the proposal, he should cut his losses and quit the project because the council is “bullheading” and she doesn’t believe the proposal will pass under the new council.
“It’s not because you didn’t do a good job, it’s because you did, sir. It’s because this committee couldn’t agree on something,” she said.
“In my opinion, this is not the time to build this, but I think if you’re going to do it, it needs to be done now, because in my personal opinion, there will be no more gold rings,” she said.
Robert Corn, who was elected as District 4 representative on March 1, opposed the project in the public comment section of the discussion. He said the rocket had been controversial from the day it was installed.
“If you want to put it on my back next time, that’s fine. I’ve made up my mind. Maybe it’s time for this rocket to re-enter the atmosphere and burn up,” he said.
Stubbs, Perry and Moore said they were not opposed to the project’s concept, but Stubbs and Perry said that, like Oropesa, they would like to see more complete information, such as the sculpture’s potential location and a more complete cost forecast.
Moore said she wasn’t sure the timing was right.
“We still have to focus on the business of the city and what’s best for the city. I’m in favor of having this. I just don’t know if I’m in favor of having it now. It’s not my $75,000; it’s the citizen’s $75,000,” she said.
Those who back the project say it’s important to get Berry up and running so the rocket doesn’t deteriorate further because of rising material costs.
Berry told the city council he estimates the work will take about a year to complete, and he doesn’t need to know the final location for about six months.
“When the price goes up, I don’t see that we can keep Mr. Berry’s bid at $75,000,” Foster said. “We have six months to a year to be ready. We have time to find a place, but it will be more expensive to renovate it in six months than it is now.”
After about 40 minutes of discussion, Roebuck indirectly addressed his fellow MPs more than once by saying they would not vote for the project now without moving any action to delay it.
“If what we’re really doing is coming up with a good way to say, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ then let’s vote and kill it now,” he said.
“If there are MPs who may oppose it now, but if they have all the information, I would encourage them to move,” he said.
He also said there was not enough information that councillors did not trust city staff to do their due diligence in preparing proposals to council.
“I just don’t think the staff is that incompetent, if I can be so blunt. If we think the staff is so incompetent on this little project, how did all the other stuff that we pass tonight pass?” he said.
After another 20 minutes of discussion, Oropesa did move a motion to delay voting on the proposal and get more complete information. The motion failed due to lack of time.
Perry later filed a motion to send the proposal back to the General Services Department to select a location. The motion lost 3 to 7, with Perry, Oropesa and Stubbs voting in favor and Moore, Kennard, Lopez, Best, Roebuck, Sanchez and Foster voting against .
The proposal then went to a final vote, when it passed.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710 ext. 205, or reporter [email protected]