WaterWalk art has its fans — and its critics

Mayor Carl Brewer said Tuesday that art is in the eye of the beholder.

So, too, was the worthiness of the $350,000 sculpture at WaterWalk that the City Council approved in a 4-3 vote.

Several members of Wichita's art community applauded Albert Paley's proposed sculpture — a 38-foot abstract piece made from Cor-Ten steel and bronze that will act as an entrance to the public-private project just north of Kellogg on the Arkansas River.

Paley said the statue is intended to symbolize Wichita's natural and historic features. It draws on Native American colors, metal shaping to evoke the city's aviation history, and a spire pointing to the open Kansas sky.

"The sense of grandeur here with the sky is amazing," he told council members.

But three council members — and a bunch of people commenting on renderings of the sculpture — said the sculpture isn't the right thing, right now.

Council member Michael O'Donnell opposed the sculpture because he felt the city should send a message to taxpayers that they won't spend money — even if it can't be spent elsewhere — at a time when the city is struggling to keep basic services intact.

Council member Jeff Longwell opposed the sculpture because he felt the project should involve water — as was originally envisioned when WaterWalk received its initial support years ago.

"We literally have gone from canals to water features to now a sculpture," he said.

Council member Pete Meitzner said he simply didn't like how the project surprised him on the agenda late last week, forcing him to make a quick decision on an expensive sculpture that he said he doesn't know much about.

A commenter on The Eagle's Facebook page called the project a slap in the face of local taxpayers.

"350K for a giant pile of twisted metal that looks like a transformer holding a lance. What a way to say 'welcome to Wichita — where we waste tax dollars as fast as we can get them,' " wrote Bill Stout.

Council member Janet Miller supported the project. She noted that the sculpture has been discussed publicly at council meetings and committee meetings for months, and she said the city will soon talk about the Waltzing Water fountains and a public gathering place next to the river.

"There are lots bigger items in this agenda that we're voting on today that have not had 18 months of public discussion," she said.

The sculpture is being paid for with tax increment financing money, which comes from property taxes created by recent improvements in the WaterWalk district. The money can be used for a wide variety of improvements but must be used inside the district.

The district runs along the river, giving the city a lot of options.

But the council agreed last year to spend the money to hire a nationally acclaimed sculptor to create something at the corner of Waterman and Main.

The corner will also have plants and other landscaping.