The Yakima City Council will likely decide the future of an art display with a $450,000 price tag at its Tuesday business meeting.
The project has been in the works since May 2008, when the Federal Highway Administration authorized the city to spend leftover funding from the Lincoln Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard underpass projects for public art displays. With both underpasses now complete, the city has roughly $636,000 remaining, but other priorities and a philosophical dissonance over publicly funded art may lead to the project’s demise.
The remaining balance comes from a contribution to the project from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which owns the train tracks that run through downtown Yakima parallel to Front Street. Because that money is local, the city has more options for it other than the art project.
Those options include installing an elevated sidewalk under the Lincoln underpass at an estimated price of $250,000, or diverting some or all of that money into other projects or to pay off debt.
The city has already spent $100,000 to pay for the art project’s design. It will cost an additional $350,000 to finish the design and construct the “Bins of Light” installation, which would feature lighted fruit bins above the Lincoln underpass as tribute to the city’s agricultural history.
At least one council member, Rick Ensey, has publicly stated the money would be better used elsewhere. Councilwoman Kathy Coffey said she supports the “Bins of Light” project.
“We need some iconic public art in Yakima that really stands out,” Coffey said. “I think it’s representative of our major industry and I would like to see it completed.”
Local arts supporters also plan to attend the meeting to lobby in favor of the project, according to an email sent to supporters by a volunteer from the Yakima Light Project Gallery.
In other business, the council will also vote on whether to purchase eight more mobile license plate readers for police vehicles. The license plate readers are used most commonly to identify stolen cars, but have also drawn criticism nationally from privacy rights advocates for the way data is collected and stored on all vehicles they pass.
Yakima Police Capt. Jeff Schneider said the city doesn’t currently have a policy regarding the disclosure of information collected by the license plate readers or how long the city would store the data. Schneider said the city doesn’t currently use license plate readers, but had two in the past until they quit working.
The cost of the eight license plate readers is $164,247.
The Yakima City Council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Yakima City Hall.