Surls statue offered for VCR roundabout |

Surls statue offered for VCR roundabout

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE, Colorado – James Calaway, a backer of the Village at Crystal River (VCR) project, has offered to install an expensive piece of sculpture by nationally-known artist James Surls in a Highway 133 roundabout at the entrance to the proposed VCR shopping center.

But as the day nears when voters will decide the fate of the controversial project, not everybody is happy about Calaway’s offer.

The project’s fortunes are the subject of a special election for voters in the town of Carbondale, who are being asked to uphold or overturn the town trustees’ conditional approval of the VCR project. Ballots are due Jan. 31.

“This is arrogance at its best,” wrote long-time local Russell Hedman in a Jan. 20 email to a Carbondale-based Internet discussion group, referring to Calaway’s offer.

“I think all of the citizens of Carbondale should have a voice in making the decisions concerning the artistic designs that may complement a public right-of-way,” Hedman continued.

The roundabout would be paid for by a 1 percent public improvement fee, or PIF, added to all retail goods sold at VCR stores.

That fact, Hedman told the Post Independent on Wednesday, “makes it a public thing.”

Calaway, a well-known local philanthropist, explained his offer at a “fireside chat” event held Tuesday evening in Carbondale and hosted by the Say YES to Carbondale group.

Calaway said about six months ago he was approached by unnamed arts-oriented locals about beautifying Highway 133, a two-lane highway that passes in front of the proposed VCR project site.

“We have about the ugliest entrance to a beautiful town that I’ve ever seen,” declared Calaway, drawing laughter from the room.

The group, Calaway said, were aware that he and Surls are friends, and urged Calaway to approach Surls about a sculpture for the roundabout.

Surls said he would do it, Calaway reported, and that he would do it at cost rather than charge the price a renowned sculptor might be expected to ask.

“Nobody is trying to push anything here,” Calaway emphasized, in an apparent response to criticism of his offer.

“We’re trying to seize an opportunity and present it to the public,” he said. “My wife and I are going to contribute about a quarter of the money ourselves.”

Reached at home on Wednesday, Calaway said the sculpture is estimated to cost around $200,000, and that he would personally raise money to pay the rest of the amount.

“I believe I can do it in a few gifts,” he said, explaining that he would approach other philanthropists in the area, with whom he has worked on other projects.

Informed of Calaway’s comments at The Gathering Place and in a phone interview, Hedman growled, “That fries me. I think that’s a lot of hubris. I don’t think he should be putting this out as a carrot on a stick for an election. He’s pandering for votes.”

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