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Whimsy amid commerce

A Dr. Seussian piece of public art livens up the stroll between BayWalk and the city's parking garage.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 26, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Police Officer J.C. McKinnon looked up at the 25-foot sentinels crowned with a menagerie of animals and coils.

"Looks like something for people who've been to Wet Willies to swing from after midnight," he said.

The Millennium Gateway was installed and dedicated Monday. The most ambitious public art project the city has undertaken spans the promenade between the city's parking garage and BayWalk on Second Avenue N between First and Second streets, "crowning this public and private partnership," Mayor Rick Baker said to the crowd gathered for the dedication.

Like most other people seeing it for the first time, Baker had only praise for it.

"I like it," he said before the dedication, "on and off the record. I was looking at sewer pipes all day so this is wonderful."

Lawyer Bill McLeod, whose office is in a building next door, was ambivalent about the Gateway. "It doesn't do a lot for me," he said. "Maybe it should."

Architectural metalsmith Alex Klahm, who created the Gateway, was in a race to finish and install the sculpture for the dedication. At 4:45 p.m., 45 minutes before the ceremony, he was in shorts on scaffolding with his crew, touching up the gold finishes.

"We wanted a signature piece for the city," said Public Art Commission chairman Greg Fisher, "something that says, 'You've arrived.' "

Klahm, in sport coat and tie, his hands still stained by the black soot of his craft, said to the crowd, "It shouldn't be such an intellectual piece that people scratch their heads trying to interpret it. If they say, 'Wow, that's neat,' sometimes that's enough."

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