Debate looms over public art costs

January 14, 2009 6:01:50 PM PST
Despite a statewide budget crisis and a citywide soft hiring freeze, Raleigh leaders are considering having taxpayers pay for art in public buildings.The plan would add the cost of art into the construction costs of new city buildings. However, some residents are wondering if it's the right time and right way to ask people to pay.

City leaders want taxpayers to pay for future works of art on future public buildings, like the shimmer wall on the side of the new convention center, which is a privately paid for work of art.

Leaders call it an attraction and say the cost will be about half a percent of the overall construction budget.

"It's half a percent of the budget. So it's a very small amount and actually right now with construction costs falling this can actually slip into budgets pretty easily," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "We're seeing costs come down 10 to15 percent on some projects. This is actually a fairly good time to get this in."

The next big city project is replacing the police department with a new public safety center. The cost is estimated at $220 million. The art cost would then be up to a million dollars.

"Right now, come on. No. We have a lot of things going on," Raleigh taxpayer Nene Ekine said. "The economy has slowed down and who knows what's going to happen to us tomorrow."

"It would be wonderful if we had the opportunity to do that if the economy was strong enough, but it's just not good timing," Raleigh taxpayer Judy Volker said.

And some worry art could become an argument. One example is the old light tower on Capital Boulevard. And the proposed Jaume Plensa Project on the plaza, which was scrapped.

"I think it would be too late to have the discussion two to three years from now and find out that people are moving to Nashville, Charlotte and other cities because it's a hipper, cooler city because we didn't make those investments," Raleigh City Councilmember Roger Koopman said.

A local artist, Bill Koeb, thinks the city is going to benefit from it in the end.

The city council is expected to consider this debate at their meeting next week.


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