Providence turns to public bid process to find new home for controversial Columbus statue

THE PROVIDENCE BOARD of park commissioners on Wednesday voted to authorize the city to publish a solicitation seeking a buyer or lessee for the Christopher Columbus statue. / COURTESY STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

PROVIDENCE – The city is turning to a public bid process to find a new home for the controversial Christopher Columbus statue.

The Providence Board of Parks Commissioners on Wednesday voted to authorize the city to publish a request for proposals, seeking individuals or groups interested in buying or leasing the 19th-century statue.

The vote marks the first sign of progress in determining what to do with the statue since it was taken down from its pedestal in Columbus Square in June 2020 after being repeatedly vandalized. Since then, the 1863 statue has been collecting dust in storage while various city panels and community members debate where it should go, and to whom.

The city’s Special Committee for Commemorative Works previously recommended that the city sell the piece at auction – a process in the museum world known as deaccessioning – and use the profits to reinvest in the neighborhood. 

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But the parks commissioners, which have final authority over the statue, have been unable to reach a decision after several meetings in which community members offered competing pleas to save or destroy the Columbus tribute. Many in the Italian-American community, including John Igliozzi and Nicholas Narducci – both city councilmen and parks commissioners, described the statue as a source of pride for the Italian immigrant community as well as the community’s manufacturing industry.

Sculpted by the same French artist who also designed the Statue of Liberty, the original statue used silver from Providence-based Gorham Manufacturing Co., though it was later recast in bronze when gifted to the city by the Elmwood Association.

But others say that racism and genocide linked to Columbus’ legacy have no place in the city, at least not on public display.

A draft RFP put forth by Parks Superintendent Wendy Nilsson at the meeting originally specified that any lessee or buyer could not put the statue on display where it would be publicly visible, even if on private land.

But Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, who chairs the parks commission, sought to eliminate this and other suggested conditions around the preservation and cost to transport the statue, fearing that too many stipulations would make an attempt to buy or sell the statue less appealing.

The agreed-upon RFP, per the commission’s unanimous vote, says that the statue cannot be burned or otherwise destroyed but leaves open a host of possibilities for a potential buyer or lessee.

Under Nilsson’s proposed timeline, the city will publish the RFP in August, with a September submission deadline. That gives commissioners several months to review and choose the best proposal, with a final decision no later than December.

The statue has been appraised at $500,000, according to Nilsson, although the actual price tag on a sale or lease could vary greatly.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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