Mermaid, Moon Waves win Oak Harbor City Council nod

Oak Harbor City Councilmen Rick Almberg, Jim Palmer, and Mayor Jim Slowik discuss public art for downtown at Tuesday’s city council meeting.  - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor City Councilmen Rick Almberg, Jim Palmer, and Mayor Jim Slowik discuss public art for downtown at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

After six months of painstaking work and controversy, the dust appears to be settling and just two of five recommended public artworks for downtown Oak Harbor will move forward.

On Tuesday, the city council unanimously agreed to fund the bronze mermaid, a crowd favorite by Oak Harbor artist Lawrence Marcell, along with the silvered-colored Moon Waves sculpture by Kevin Pettelle from Sultan.

Although the decision is a far cry from the recommendation of the Oak Harbor Arts Commission, which proposed a total of five pieces at a cost of $125,500, City Councilman Jim Campbell said he believed the outcome was the right one.

“I think what we’re going to end up with is going to be just fine for the city of Oak Harbor,” said Campbell, Tuesday night.

The price for both pieces will tally out to about $59,500 before taxes and will be paid for with money from the art commission’s own budget, the Arts Acquisition and Maintenance Fund. The current balance is about $57,000.

The fund accrues money monthly and it’s believed that there will be enough in the account before the bill comes in to cover the difference.

The council also agreed on a third piece, the procession of three bronze ducklings by renowned South Whidbey artist Georgia Gerber. However, because it did not go through the lengthy public vetting process the other pieces did, the council’s approval was conditional.

It is to be sent back to the arts commission for public review. Once that’s completed, it can then be sent back to the city council for final consideration. If approved, the duck sculpture’s commissioning will be contingent on available funds, as it also would be paid for with money from the art commission’s budget.

“That way we can have our duck and eat it too,” Oak Harbor City Councilman Rick Almberg said.

Cost of the downtown art project was a major source of concern for council members. Initially, the plan was to fund four pieces within a budget of $80,000, which is 1 percent of the Pioneer Way project’s total $8.35 million cost.

However, the art commission’s recommendation to fund five pieces and spend $45,500 more than what was budgeted spurred criticism from both the public and elected officials.

The final nail in the coffin of the art commissions proposal came when city officials announced that their plan to fund the project with Real Estate Excise Tax money was actually illegal. That not only put the entire $80,000 budget in doubt but left city officials scrambling to find an alternative funding source.

Once the arts commission learned that it may only have $57,000 to spend, it prioritized and pitched two top picks, the mermaid and a basalt column with salmon surrounded by a courtyard and benches called Sea Life.

Choosing Moon Waves was an unexpected decision. The arts commission has been dinged heavily for going over budget and for not strictly adhering to the results of the public survey. Yet, the basalt column was cheaper and ranked higher on the survey.

“Someone must have really liked Moon Waves,” said chairwoman Erica Schumacher, a few minutes after the council made its decision.

Under a revised estimate, Sea Life was priced at $22,500 and came in third on the survey. Comparatively, Moon Waves was estimated at $28,500 and placed fifth.

The council’s decision may have been in part due the recommendation of city staff, which proposed the mermaid and Moon Waves for approval. As a result, Sea Life was barely discussed during the meeting.

“They (the city council) listened to staff because they sure didn’t listen to us,” said Fern Miller, an arts commission member.

Oak Harbor Planning Director Steve Powers said the staff’s suggestion was an attempt to factor in cost, survey results, and the arts commission’s recommendation.

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