Moments after the Charlottesville City Council voted 3-2 to relocate the city’s statue of Robert E. Lee, as people celebrated or stewed over the decision, the council unanimously agreed on two other measures that could bring even more change downtown.
Vote riles many from community at meeting.
Councilors voted to rename Lee and Jackson parks and tasked staff to begin the process of hiring a professional design firm to redesign them, as well.
The recommendations came from a panel the council convened last year to explore what the city should do about its statue of Lee, as well as one of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
In November, the panel recommended the city keep the statues in the city, though two options were presented: move them to McIntire Park or re-contextualize them in their current locations. The explicit and final recommendation to the council was to consider both options, but seven of the nine panel members voted in favor of relocating the Lee statue.
Staff members are expected to recommend to the council within 60 days new names for Lee and Jackson parks, and to provide direction on how and where the city can move the Lee statue.
“I have put forth before you today ... another resolution to pretty much complete the recommendations that were made by the Blue Ribbon Commission [on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces] for the other parts of the North Downtown Historic precinct,” Councilor Kathy Galvin said before publicly introducing the motion Monday night.
The hired design team, which will create design plans for the Historic North Downtown and Court Square districts, also will be responsible for replacing a plaque that recognizes the former slave auction block near the Albemarle County Circuit Courthouse. The team also will create a new marker for the site of the former Freedmen’s Bureau downtown.
Particularly in Jackson Park, where the statue of Jackson will remain, the resolution calls for the commissioning of a new monument to honor the city’s enslaved population.
“The point of this resolution is to acknowledge the fact there’ll probably be a delay in actually relocating the [Lee] statue because of the litigation that will ensue,” Galvin said, alluding to threatened lawsuits over the proposal to remove the Lee statue, which many consider to be a war memorial that’s protected by Virginia statute.
“Having that status quo remain in those parks I don’t think is acceptable to anybody. So this was an opportunity to begin moving in that direction to get some tangible change in the parks to begin telling that clearer, more honest narrative of racial history in the city of Charlottesville,” she said. “That’s why I feel there’s a need to act on this at the same time as we’re acting on the statue relocation. This will probably come out of the gate quicker and sooner.”
Altogether, the council agreed to allocate up to $1 million for the development, design and implementation of whatever master plan it adopts. Once a project contract is signed, the city or the design firm will provide a timeline to finish the project within 12 months.
Before voting on Galvin’s resolution, Mayor Mike Signer said landscape architects have told city officials that the city can utilize approximately $1 million to complete the entire project and build a modest memorial. If it goes over budget, the resolution says the city could seek private donations or grants to complete the project.
The $1 million pegged for the project is twice the amount the council has resolved to put toward implementation of whatever it decided to do on the matter.
In December, the council decided it would use up to $500,000 of a $6 million surplus the city ran in the last fiscal year for implementation of the project. City officials have estimated that moving the Lee statue could cost about $330,000.
“This is real dollars toward a real serious commitment to transform downtown,” Signer said about that allocation and the estimated cost of the redesign project.
While the future home of the Lee statue is not yet known, councilors expressed confidence in Galvin’s plan.
“I want to highlight that Lee Park would be redesigned, independent of the Lee statue,” Signer said, alluding to explicit language in the resolution. He said the redesigned park “has to have its own integrity and has to retain its ability to function as a community gathering space.”
In addition to all of the resolutions that the council passed Monday, Councilor Wes Bellamy read a proclamation announcing that the city will now recognize March 3 as Liberation and Freedom Day to recognize the day in 1865 when the Union Army entered Charlottesville.