Scupture garden plan goes awry

Virginia officials say permits are lacking for $17.6 million proposal

March 26, 2000|By Erika Reif | Erika Reif,Knight Ridder/Tribune

YORK COUNTY, Va. -- The big, white presidential busts rolled into the Days Inn parking lot early Friday, six heads lopped off at the neck and chained unceremoniously next to their shoulders on three flatbed trucks.

Ronald Reagan's cement neck was chipped, and Woodrow Wilson's tie had wire mesh showing.

Yet the final indignity was still waiting.

York County officials said that the heads had to hit the road again until proper permits were obtained. The county suggested putting them in an industrial storage yard or warehouse.

The news surprised sculptor David Adickes and developer Everette H. Newman III, two among a group of investors who want to build a $17.6 million "Presidential Park" on 11 acres next to the Days Inn. The wooded park would have serpentine trails that open onto clusters of presidents, 41 to date with room for more.

Each sculpture would stand 18 feet tall above a pedestal. The investors also hope to erect a 92-foot George Washington, two-thirds as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

Newman, president of F.C.R. Group Inc. of Williamsburg, V., a commercial real estate and hotel management company that would develop and manage the property, believed he had permission from county officials to set up the statues temporarily on the six-acre hotel property.

Mark Carter, assistant county administrator, said in an interview on Wednesday that having the statues temporarily on display "might actually be good" in terms of the public getting a feel for what and how big they are. More statues were scheduled to arrive from the sculptor's Houston studio every week throughout the spring.

But a fax from Carter to Newman on Thursday said the statues would have to be stored until the permit application process was complete. Once an application is submitted, the county Planning Commission has 90 days to recommend action to the Board of Supervisors. The board has up to a year to make a decision.

While the park investors plan their next move, people are driving by for a sneak preview. In addition to Reagan and Wilson, the set includes Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Martin Van Buren and Herbert Hoover.

"It's a kick," said a Williamsburg resident who did not give his full name. The park is a good idea, he said. "Look at all the people coming here."

His friend, Chuck Wolf, shook his head. "I think it's commercial. I don't think it's appropriate."

Kathy Ricci and five co-workers used their lunch hour on Friday to get a look. Ricci quickly deemed the project a waste of time, space and money. "Why do they have to be so large and hideous?" Ricci said. "It's overkill."

The property, two privately owned parcels under option-to-buy contracts, is across the street from Water Country USA and within the Historic Triangle, a high-volume tourist area between Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Investors predict the year-round park would draw a quarter million visitors annually. Admission would be charged.

Newman said they are finishing engineering and site plans and will submit their proposal to the county next week.

The project idea came to sculptor Adickes about six years ago, after a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, high in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Adickes was overwhelmed by its grandeur, he said, but was disappointed that he couldn't get closer. "You could see it better with binoculars and a book than the real thing," he said.

Adickes has built an 8-foot bronze George Bush; a 20-foot bust of Andrew Jackson in Jackson, Miss.; and a 76-foot statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville, Texas, which promotes the statue as the world's tallest of an American hero.

Yet it was "intimacy" Adickes wanted in his vision of a garden of American presidents.

The group of investors settled on the idea of an "outdoor museum," Newman said.

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