FREMONT -- In a nod to those yearning for Fremont to think big to get itself on the map, council members approved an eye-catching though somewhat pricey sculpture in Central Park, depleting the city's art fund and going against staff's recommendation to save the money for its proposed downtown project.

The unanimous City Council vote approved spending $230,000 to install the piece by renowned Oakland artist, Bruce Beasley, at the corner of Paseo Padre Parkway and Stevenson Boulevard. Council members said the sculpture will give the city something it does not have: an iconic symbol.

"This will certainly get on every post card that says 'Fremont,'" said Councilwoman Anu Natarajan.

This sculpture, titled “Unity,” soon will grace the corner of Stevenson Boulevard and Paseo Padre Parkway in Central Park. The public art --
This sculpture, titled “Unity,” soon will grace the corner of Stevenson Boulevard and Paseo Padre Parkway in Central Park. The public art -- envisioned by Oakland artist Bruce Beasley, who will be paid about $200,000 for it -- was approved last week by the Fremont City Council. (City of Fremont) ( mdufrene )

Beasley will be paid around $200,000 for creating "Unity," a stainless-steel sculpture standing 22-feet high and 33-feet wide. Composed of six rings, the artwork will be installed early next year at a cost of about $30,000, said Wayne Morris, Fremont's principal planner.

Beasley, 73, has work in 30 permanent museum collections worldwide and was one of 12 artists whose work was displayed at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. His stainless-steel sculpture, "Gathering of the Moons," remains at Olympic Park in the Chinese capital.


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The council's vote rejected staff's recommendation to save the city's limited art funds so they can be directed for art in the proposed downtown project. The proposed sculpture is a few blocks away from the long-planned 110-acre downtown district, a development mixing high-density housing, retail, entertainment and office space in an area already anchored by City Hall and the Fremont BART station.

"Art is part of the plan in the downtown area, to build a sense of place, identity and pride in the community," said Jeff Schwob, Fremont's community development director.

Members of the city's Art Review Board, which formally recommended that the council approve the sculpture, said it would be a shame if Fremont squandered an opportunity to work with an artist of Beasley's stature.

"The individual stainless steel rings of the sculpture kind of rise and coalesce, like our population," said Carol Lawton, chairwoman of the Art Review Board. "The sculpture is large and dynamic enough that it will draw people to visit its location, much like the Sundial Bridge in Redding."

The council agreed, adding that the art work's location could enhance rather than detract from the downtown development.

"It's an appropriate gateway, as it connects downtown with our largest and most public space: Central Park," Natarajan said.

The sculpture's price tag is in the middle range for public art in Bay Area cities. Palo Alto voted last year to spend $270,000 on a Beasley sculpture that soon will be installed at Mitchell Park Library. Likewise, Oakland spent around $250,000 a decade ago on a Beasley project in Frank Ogawa Plaza, said Steven Huss, Oakland's cultural arts manager.

While some public art in Oakland goes for as low as $30,000, the city's most expensive public art work -- an ongoing multipiece revamp of an alleyway near a BART entrance at 17th Street -- will cost $600,000, Huss said. Union City -- Fremont's Tri-City-area neighbor -- spent about $100,000 for a 10-foot-high, 12-foot-wide sculpture it unveiled last year at the Mark Green Sports Center, said Carmela Campbell, Union City's planning manager.

Like most California cities, public art in Fremont is paid from funds garnered by setting aside 1 percent of the construction budget from each public building. Private developers who build downtown will be required to contribute as much as 50 cents per square foot for a separate downtown art fund, a fact that gave council members confidence to approve the Beasley sculpture.

"If downtown becomes what we want it to be, we will have money for it," Councilman Vinnie Bacon said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.