New Puerto Rico spot picked for erecting huge Columbus statue ridiculed by many critics

By Danica Coto, AP
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New bid to erect Columbus statue in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Christopher Columbus is on the move again in the New World, after numerous rejections in a nearly two-decade quest to find him a suitable spot.

A towering statue of the explorer — twice the height of the Statue of Liberty without its pedestal and shunned by several U.S. cities — might be erected on Puerto Rico’s north coast. It would be the tallest structure in the U.S. Caribbean territory.

The chosen spot is near the coastal town of Arecibo, Jose Gonzalez, administrator of Holland Group Ports Investments, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“It already was inspected by the artist and approved by him,” Gonzalez said. He declined to identify the specific location.

Although the site has been chosen, several permits must be approved before the project can go forward, Gonzalez said, declining further comment.

It was unclear who picked the site and authorized the statue’s move. Gonzalez’s company runs the port where the colossal statue is stored.

Arecibo Mayor Lemuel Soto did not return calls for comment.

The statue was created by Zurab Tsereteli, a controversial Russian sculptor whose artwork is widely disliked.

The nearly 300-foot (90-meter) bronze creation shows Columbus at the wheel of a tiny ship with three billowing sails behind him. It weighs 660 tons (599 metric tons).

Tsereteli built it in 1991 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ 1492 arrival in the Western Hemisphere.

It was given to Puerto Rico as a gift after New York, Miami, Baltimore and other cities refused to accept, for reasons ranging from cost to appearance. The Baltimore Sun called it “From Russia with Ugh.”

After arriving in Puerto Rico, the statue drew more criticism. Some people said the arms are too long, the head too small and the one-handed greeting pose silly.

The original plan was to erect the statue in Catano, a seaside suburb of San Juan. But residents protested because the plan called for demolishing several dozen homes to make room for it, and problems arose with airplane flight paths.

The statue was then proposed for Mayaguez, but an appropriate location was never found. It has been in storage there for two years, said Gonzalez, whose company runs the Mayaguez port.

Puerto Rico’s government has estimated it would cost more than $20 million to assemble the statue’s 2,750 pieces.

(This version CORRECTS that Catano was first Puerto Rican town proposed to erect statue, then Mayaguez)

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