APRIL FOOLS — In 2007, the St. Armands Key Residents Association and St. Armands Circle Association joined forces to form Save Our Statues, a group that banded together to restore John Ringling’s historic statues around St. Armands Circle, while donating new statues to complete Ringling’s vision of the “Seven Virtues of Sarasota.”
Ringling didn’t plan for an eighth virtue of Sarasota, but city officials say it’s in line with his vision for a cosmopolitan shopping district by the sea.
On Tuesday morning, the “Unconditional Surrender” sculpture was moved to St. Armands Circle and unveiled as the Eighth Virtue of Sarasota. The statue was originally located on Sarasota’s bayfront, where the 88-year-old World War II veteran who donated the “Unconditional Surrender” statue to the city of Sarasota stipulated that the 25-foot piece remain.
The only problem? It turns out the statue was illegally placed in the right of way, a fact Sarasota officials learned last week when the city was forced to fine itself $250 a day for each of the 811 days the statue stood on the bayfront, amounting to $202,750. So, the donor agreed that the city could search for a new home with high visibility and pedestrian traffic for the sculpture, which has been heralded as an aesthetic masterpiece by Sarasota’s arts community.
City officials considered Bird Key Park. But when windsurfers vowed to form a human chain around the statue, city officials set their sights on Lido Key, where they thought the statue could create a positive addition to the newly renourished beach. But when Lido residents worried that the beach’s fine, white sand could damage the historic, three-year-old statue, city officials knew they would have to look elsewhere. Finally, they settled on St. Armands Circle (which will likely be renamed St. Google’s Circle at a Sarasota City Commission meeting next week), where tourists can pose for photos with the statue on the Circle’s park while patronizing its high-end shops and restaurants.
To cope with the influx of traffic that the statue will bring to the Circle, the Florida Department of Transportation has limited the inner lane of St. Armands Circle to photo-takers only.
As the city moved the statue to the Circle on Tuesday, one official described it as a win-win situation. The St. Armands residents and merchants have already shown their competence in statue care and preservation through the Save Our Statues program. A city official said that, although he hasn’t spoken to representatives of those groups, he is certain that they will be happy to take on maintenance responsibilities of the statue, such as providing paint touch-ups as necessary.
One St. Armands Circle Association official said that the group plans to sell sailor-themed souvenirs near the statue to make up for this year’s city budget shortfall. Although she said she was disappointed that events such as “Holiday Night on St. Armands” would be eliminated because there wouldn’t be room for the 50-foot Christmas tree, she said the association was planning for alternative events in which Circle-goers can decorate the statue with decorations such as Easter Bunny ears, Santa hats or turkey wings, depending on the holiday.
Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government members say that the Sarasota City Commission violated sunshine laws when it moved “Unconditional Surrender” from the bayfront to St. Armands Circle. So the group has moved the giant inflatable rat, which was previously stationed outside of a county building in protest of a contract the county recently signed with the Baltimore Orioles, to the Circle as a symbol of the figurative rat that they smell.
One group member said that she hopes to keep the rat alongside the statue for as long as possible. However, another member said that the rat’s schedule would not allow for an extended stay, because he has hearings for the Longboat Key Club and Resort, Sarasota Police Department and bayfront-connectivity plan to attend.
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