The statue of Christopher Columbus overlooking Peoria’s Uplands neighborhood from its pedestal atop Laura Bradley Park will soon set sail to discover a new home in a park district storage facility.
The Peoria Park District Board of Trustees voted 4-2 Wednesday night to remove the statue and convert the area to greenspace. Trustees Joseph Cassidy and Nancy Snowden voted no, primarily citing financial concerns.
During a nationwide tide of social unrest that began at the start of summer, attention has been brought to statues on public property that honor controversial figures who many believe symbolize racist ideologies.
This put a spotlight on the park district’s Columbus statue that stands along a quiet tree-shaded stretch of Parkside Drive.
At the public’s urging, the park’s planning committee compiled a list of options for consideration by the board. That list ranged from doing nothing to replacing the statue with an installation by a local artist.
Board president Robert Johnson said the recommendations came after months of conversations.
“It's been a long process. We didn't just take this lightly,” said Johnson. “We had the community come in, we had several meetings. I wanted to be very transparent about this process.
“The board felt that it was in the best interest of the park district and our community to take it down peacefully. And if people from the community want to come in and do something with that green space...we can have conversations again,” he said.
Trustee Jacqueline Perry said doing nothing would not have reflected the public’s demonstrated desire to address the issue.
“We’ve gotta be moving the right way and that's being inclusive and equitable with everyone, equal opportunities. And if we as a park district who serve everyone that's in the Peoria area can’t see that, then something’s wrong," she said.
District Executive Director Emily Cahill said removal will take time and steps will be taken to properly store the statue.
“I know there's a lot of controversy around him as a figure, but as a piece of art that is something that we want to preserve,” said Cahill. “So we will work through that process, we will try to get as much of that work done this fall as we possibly can, but it will be a process that we look forward to implementing at the board’s direction.”
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