- August 15, 2019
For months, Sarasota city officials have left a question unsettled regarding the long-term placement of the Unconditional Surrender sculpture that currently sits on the bayfront.
In June, staff informed the City Commission the artwork needed to be relocated — at least temporarily — to accommodate the construction of a roundabout at Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41 in early 2021. At the time, the commission agreed to move Unconditional Surrender during construction and directed the city’s Public Art Committee to make recommendations on where the sculpture should be installed after the roundabout was built.
As recently as Sept. 8, commissioners made clear that a final decision on the placement of Unconditional Surrender was still forthcoming. Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asked staff to set up an online survey where residents could vote on their preferred location for the sculpture.
Although most of the sites the city has explored are adjacent to the bayfront, not all are — including the Sahib Shriners property at 600 N. Beneva Road, which the Public Art Committee endorsed as its favored option. When City Commissioner Hagen Brody suggested the commission should limit its focus to sites on the bayfront, Freeland Eddie and Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said they didn’t want to rule anything out yet.
On Sunday, City Manager Tom Barwin said the survey was expected to go live on the city’s website by the end of the week.
Then, on Tuesday, the Twitter account for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan made a post that suggested the city had settled on a key detail regarding the placement of the sculpture.
“BREAKING: Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin just told me the ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue will remain at the Bayfront,” the post said.
In a subsequent post, Buchanan shared a statement that said Barwin told him the artwork may be relocated temporarily during roundabout construction, but that it would return to the bayfront afterwards. Buchanan, who publicly advocated earlier this month for keeping Unconditional Surrender on the bayfront, applauded city officials for their decision.
Today, however, the city made clear no such decision had been made. In a statement, the city reaffirmed that the City Commission will make the final decision on where Unconditional Surrender is located, and a date has not yet been set for a vote on that topic.
The statement did not explicitly deny Buchanan’s assertion that Barwin said Unconditional Surrender would remain on the bayfront. Earlier this month, Barwin said the public input the city has received to date has overwhelmingly supported keeping the sculpture near the water.
“City Manager Tom Barwin had an excellent conversation with the congressman and shared his impressions that city officials and he are receiving similar public input about the relocation of Unconditional Surrender,” the statement said. “Mr. Barwin mentioned what is likely to occur based on recent consistent feedback.”
The city said Barwin is out of the office for the week and unavailable for comment on the specifics of the conversation. Reached for comment, Buchanan’s office provided an additional emailed statement that repeated his claim that Barwin said Unconditional Surrender would stay on the bay.
“Knowing of my strong interest in keeping the statue, Tom called me and said the statue would remain at the bayfront,” Buchanan said in the statement. “I think it’s absolutely the right decision and I look forward to the commission’s formal vote.”
Despite its popularity, Unconditional Surrender has been the subject of controversy since the city first accepted the sculpture as a donation in 2009. The Public Art Committee unanimously recommended against accepting the gift, and the City Commission approved it in a 3-2 vote. Critics have called it a depiction of a sexual assault and a low-quality, unoriginal piece of artwork. Proponents have called it a celebrated tribute to World War II veterans and an attraction for tourists.
This article has been updated to include an emailed statement from U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.