The statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea at West Main and Ridge streets is likely to move. Next month, the Charlottesville City Council will begin formal discussions on how far. In a 4-1 vote Monday night, the council directed city staff to move forward with several design options for the first phase of the $11.3 million West Main Streetscape project and set in motion a concurrent discussion on whether the statue currently in a traffic island should be removed completely. Current plans call for the statue to be shifted 20 feet to accommodate a right-turn lane that would replace the slip lane from West Main to Ridge. The traffic island would the become a pocket park extending from the current sidewalk along West Main. The entire project — which includes widened sidewalks, underground utilities, more trees and street furniture — is expected to cost about $31 million and stretch from Ridge Street to Jefferson Park Avenue. The first phase will run from Ridge Street to Sixth Street Northwest. The estimated cost of shifting the statue is $50,000. In November, Mayor Nikuyah Walker suggested removing the statue, which has garnered controversy over the years. The bronze sculpture by Charles Keck was erected in 1919 and depicts Meriwether Lewis and William Clark standing and gazing westward while Sacagawea is in a crouched position.
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Walker asked Monday night whether if the design of the park depended on the statue being there. After city staff said nothing hinged on it, she reiterated her stance. She added that there was a desire to remove the statue a decade ago. “I think we would get something actually done if it wasn’t just moved into the new space,” she said. “… If we just move the statue, then the statue will probably be there.” Anthony Guy Lopez, a UVa graduate who said he was enrolled a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, recalled the 2009 installation of a plaque explaining Sacagawea’s work in guiding the explorers. Descendants of the Shoshone woman wrote the plaque’s text, he said, and Native Americans attended its installation ceremony. “We were shocked to see the statues in Charlottesville [that are] so disrespectfully portraying American Indians,” he said, including one of George Rogers Clark at West Main Street and Jefferson Park Avenue on University of Virginia Grounds. “The council wouldn’t consider actually removing the statue. They gave us the option of reinterpreting it or some kind of mitigation. So, reluctantly, a few of us agreed, then we got funding from the city for a plaque. … Ten years later, it’s one of my regrets that I didn’t fight harder to have the statue removed at the time.” In 2016, Alexandria Searles, executive director of the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, wrote a letter to the city saying that the center would accept on contextualize the statue if it could be moved. The statue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and city staff expressed concerns Monday that completely removing the statue could trigger a process that could escalate the streetscape’s cost. “I think it could impact on the timeline for the project,” NDS Director Alex Ikefuna said. Because of its status, the city would have to consult with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in a different process than for simply shifting it in the general vicinity, staff said. Although it is not a contributing structure to West Main Street Architectural Control District, the move also would have to go before the city’s Architectural Review Board, city planner Jeff Werner said. Councilor Kathy Galvin proposed moving forward staff’s proposed resolution for the West Main Streetscape that included shifting the statue and eliminating crosswalks and a motion to resolve in June to launch a separate public process to decide the fate of the statue. “I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think you can begin the process with the community. … It’s not something that needs to slow [the West Main Streetscape] down,” Galvin said. Walker voted against the measure in part because she felt that some streetscape design elements, like raised crosswalks, could be retained. Staff suggested removing the option to avoid potential snow removal and drainage issues. Work on the streetscape is slated to begin as early as next year.