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Statue rejected for canal harbor site Clinton likeness may go to Elmwood

DeWitt Clinton will not be standing near the terminus of his ditch anytime soon.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. board of directors this week blocked installation of a two-ton wooden statue of the man who championed construction of the original Erie Canal. The Clinton likeness, carved from one of the fallen trees from the October 2006 storm, was donated by the Niagara Tourism and Convention Center.

The gesture was kind but the 8-foot-tall carving is not among the interpretive elements planned for the historic Buffalo waterfront site, said Larry Quinn, vice chairman of the harbor panel.

"That site has to be more than a receptacle of nice ideas and nice things just because we have space," Quinn said.

Therese Forton-Barnes, of Carvings for a Cause, the nonprofit foundation that is spearheading the "fallen trees to art" effort, said she understands the board's decision.

"Niagara Tourism and USA Niagara donated the Clinton statue as a gift to the City of Buffalo, and it's up to me to find a permanent site to display it," Forton-Barnes said. "There are many other options in the city to explore."

The 8-foot-tall carving by chain saw artist Rick Pratt could find a temporary home along Elmwood Avenue, where about a dozen of the Carvings for a Cause statues are now on display.

Forton-Barnes said that while placement next to the rewatered Commercial Slip and Central Wharf seemed ideal for the canal icon, she doesn't view the board's decision as a slight.

While ruling out DeWitt Clinton's statue, the board has softened its stance on installation of a three-story-tall "ghosted facade" it put on hold in mid-October. Crews have been given a green light to complete construction of the screenlike interpretive element, which the board originally described as "inappropriate, ugly and tasteless."

The change of heart followed a 40-minute presentation by the project's architect, Peter Flynn, of Flynn Battaglia Architects of Buffalo, and Keith Helmetag, principal of New York City-based C&G Partners LLC, designer of the interpretive pieces.

"We'll reserve judgment until we see the final product, instead of looking at it in segments and individual pieces," said Jordan Levy, the harbor board chairman.

Helmetag, whose firm's work on history-themed projects is nationally recognized, urged the board members to withhold judgment until the facade, which is only 50 percent erected, has been completed.

"Our goal was a design that was appealing and historically accurate," Flynn said. "I believe we'll achieve that."

When finished, the facade will represent a generic, canal-era building that might have stood at the site. Nine faux windows will be filled with images depicting canal district occupations, with a 10-foot-by-20-foot base panel housing a giant map of the Erie Canal and additional images of how goods were moved between the East and Midwest.

The facade and other interpretive pieces that were scheduled to be installed this month are now expected to be completed by the end of the year. The Erie Canal Harbor site will see its official debut in the spring.


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