Permanent home of ‘Unconditional Surrender’ could be decided during Nov. 16 City Commission meeting

Board members given options for how to proceed during discussion item set for afternoon session

Unconditional Surrender has been the focus of mixed views since it was installed at Bayfront Park. File photo

On the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 16, as their next-to-last item of business before their scheduled dinner break, the Sarasota city commissioners are set to discuss the controversial bayfront statue Unconditional Surrender.

Whether the board members will do more than decide about temporary storage for the artwork remains to be seen.

A city staff memo included in the backup agenda material for the meeting offers the commissioners three options:

  • Agree to temporary storage during the construction of the planned roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue, with the understanding that the permanent location of the statue, after completion of the project, will be discussed at a future commission meeting, with public comments allowed.

In a Nov. 2 memo to Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown, City Attorney Robert Fournier wrote, “It is my opinion that the [Florida] Sunshine Law does not require the City Commission to take public input on the question of whether to merely temporarily store [his emphasis] Unconditional Surrender at this time, provided that [his emphasis again] the decision to temporarily store the statue is made with the understanding that the storage is temporary and that the matter will be placed on a future City Commission agenda for a final decision.”

  • Decide that day where Unconditional Surrender will stand in the future, after hearing public comments.
  • Agree to a Nov. 30 meeting, at 5:30 p.m., to allow public comments on the permanent location of the statue.

The staff memo reminds commissioners who have been on the board and those who are newly elected that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has scheduled the roundabout construction to begin in February 2021. Therefore, FDOT wants to ensure that Unconditional Surrender, as well as the Complexus sculpture on the east side of U.S. 41 at the Gulfstream Avenue intersection, are out of the way by Jan. 15, 2021, the memo adds.

The City Commission previously agreed to allow Complexus to be moved to the Sarasota Art Museum, which stands on U.S. 41 near Sarasota High School, while the roundabout work is underway. That temporary location will be in effect for at least two years, the memo notes, with the option of a third year.

As for the fate of Unconditional Surrender: Two city advisory boards have offered their own recommendations to the City Commission.

The Public Art Committee voted unanimously on Aug. 5 to recommend that Unconditional Surrender be displayed in front of the Sahib Shriners building, located at 600 N. Beneva Road, the staff memo points out. That recommendation, the memo explains, came with the understanding that one or more victims groups and one or more veterans groups would help create educational materials for the display, and the Shriners would be responsible for moving, maintaining and insuring the statue, along with producing and displaying the educational materials.

More women have come forward in recent months, urging the city commissioners not to allow Unconditional Surrender to be returned to the bayfront after the roundabout project because of its depiction of what they consider to be a sexual assault. It was modeled on a famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo that was taken in Times Square on V-J (victory over Japan) Day in 1945.

This is Frame 27 of Alfred Eisenstadt’s contact sheet from the V-J Day celebration in Times Square. Victims of sexual assault say it is clear that the nurse was trying to push away the sailor who had grabbed her. Image courtesy Kafi Benz

After the #metoo movement began almost exactly three years ago, someone spray-painted the hashtag on the statue one night. No arrest ever was made.

This close-up shows the #metoo hashtag spray-painted on Unconditional Surrender in February 2019. Photo courtesy Sarasota Police Department

Conversely, veterans and others have been vociferous in calling for the statue to return to the bayfront because of its popularity as a symbol of the end of World War II.

Another city advisory board, the Parks, Recreation, and Environmental Protection Board, voted 6-1 on Aug. 20 to recommend that Unconditional Surrender be relocated to a site between Marina Jack and O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, the city staff memo says.

The city survey

Additionally, the city conducted a survey of the public regarding the location where Unconditional Surrender should stand permanently, the memo notes. More than 10,000 votes were recorded, with nine potential locations depicted in the survey.

However, subsequent news media reports indicated that the survey could be manipulated, so a person could vote more than once. The Sarasota News Leader also learned of that possibility from a reader who had figured out how it could be done.

These are the survey results, included in the agenda packet for the Nov. 16 City Commission meeting. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In his Oct. 2 newsletter, within which he presented the survey results, City Manager Tom Barwin acknowledged, “While online surveys are non-scientific, and some individuals may attempt to skew the process, the intent was to collect general community sentiment and present that information to City Commissioners as one of many factors to be considered during their decision-making process. “

This image shows how Unconditional Surrender would look if it were to be placed between O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill and Marina Jack, at Bayfront Park. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Altogether, city records showed that 4,133 responses called for Unconditional Surrender to stand between O’Leary’s and Marina Jack, with another 1,727 calling for it to be placed in the middle of the circular drive area at the entrance of Bayfront Park, in front of O’Leary’s. Thus, 5,860 responses — 56.29% of the total — favored a bayfront site.

The remaining 4,450 responses out of the 10,410 the city recorded were divided among the other seven locations, which included spots in Ken Thompson Park on City Island, the Sahib Shriners property and the Chaplain J.D. Hamel Park across from Bayfront Park on Main Street.

Other city residents decried the fact that city staff did not offer a survey option for no public display of Unconditional Surrender.

This image shows how Unconditional Surrender would look if it stood in Chaplain J.D. Hamel Park in downtown Sarasota. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

The staff memo for the Nov. 16 meeting also points out that after the City Commission decides the future location of the statue, “[I]t could take a minimum of 6 weeks to a maximum of 8 weeks to permit and construct a foundation, allowing 30 days for cement to cure, and to have a professional crew disassemble, transport, and reassemble the artwork.”

Moreover, the staff memo points out, just moving the statue to storage is expected to cost about $20,000, based on a quote staff received in May. The disassembly portion of that was $15,505, the memo adds. “Reassembly will cost slightly more,” the memo continues, “as caulking and painting will be necessary as part of that task.” Thus, the staff estimate for that part of the initiative is $20,000.

Further, constructing a new foundation for the artwork is expected to cost around $20,000, with another $11,500 for labor and materials, according to a quote the city received from its general contractor, Chase Orton of C.O. Construction, the memo says.

All the facets of the temporary storage and relocation add up to approximately $65,000, the memo notes.

Meeting details

The City Commission meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 at City Hall, which is located at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota. The schedule calls for the afternoon session to end at 4:30 p.m., but board members routinely extend that, especially if they are engaged in a discussion that appears likely to last beyond that point.

Nonetheless, the evening session will begin at 6 p.m. The agenda calls for any unfinished business from the afternoon session to be addressed after public hearings. One hearing has been set for that night.

The City Commission and city staff are following protocols designed to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs and her staff include the following details in their notices of the meetings:

The Sarasota city commissioners meet in person on Nov. 2 for the first time since the spring. Precautions have been taken in the Commission Chambers to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. File image

“Individuals who wish to participate in the City Commission Meeting in person may do so by coming to the SRQ Studio located in the City Hall Annex. Individuals are required to wear a face covering while inside City Hall buildings. ‘Face covering’ shall mean a uniform piece of material that securely covers a person’s nose and mouth and remains affixed in place without the use of one’s hands, whether store-bought or homemade, concurrent with CDC guidelines. Individuals who are unable to wear a face covering and desire to attend the City Commission meeting may do so without a face covering and enter City Hall directly from the exterior door to Room 112. Staff stationed in each room will provide further instructions to individuals on procedures for participating in the meeting.”

To read the agenda packet for the meeting, visit this link.