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Problems with 'Exploding Chicken' sculpture come home to roost

TAMPA — Plans to move the iconic sculpture known as the Exploding Chicken from its perch on Kennedy Boulevard to a traffic circle near the Florida Aquarium have hit a snag.

City officials have learned it will cost twice as much as expected to install the piece.

So it's sitting indefinitely in two different storage locations — in pieces like a fryer chicken — while the city tries to find a lower-cost option for resurrecting it.

"If I'm unable to find something that fiscally makes sense, I'm going to have to find another location for it," said Bob McDonaugh, the city's manager for economic development in the Channel District.

Meanwhile, America's Capital Partners, the original owners of the sculpture, are pressing the city to officially accept the artwork, which they say is worth $1.1 million.

For more than 20 years, the yellow, black and white piece of abstract art sat outside the cylindrical Rivergate Tower on Kennedy Boulevard at Ashley Drive. Its creator, artist George Sugarman, didn't name the sculpture, but Tampa Tribune columnist Steve Otto dubbed it the Exploding Chicken, and that moniker stuck.

America's Capital Partners of Miami bought the office tower, including art, in 2005 for $35.5 million. Six months later, the company said it wanted the bird gone and offered to donate it to the city.

Early last year, the city announced its new roost: a traffic circle in the Channel District.

McDonaugh estimated the cost to move and refurbish the sculpture at $150,000.

But America's Capital Partners agreed to kick in $35,000 to help with the move, and local businesses offered to clean and reinstall it for free. The total bill to the city was supposed to be $15,000.

The sculpture was dismantled in the spring, but then complications emerged.

"The site we had chosen, that round, has a lot of utilities underground, so you can't use a traditional concrete mat foundation," he said.

In addition, the sculpture needs extra securing because of what McDonaugh calls "uplift," which could send the piece airborne in a hurricane.

"It's the only metal chicken in the world that could fly," he said.

Plans called for four separate pads secured by pilings. McDonaugh got a good price on the pilings by piggybacking on construction of a nearby parking garage.

But by the time the city had acquired all the permits from the Florida Department of Transportation, the drilling rig was gone. The cost to build the pads doubled.

"Times are tight. Money's tight. I had vowed to do this with as much volunteer work as possible," he said, pledging the sculpture will eventually go up.

"It's a local icon. I wanted to save it," McDonaugh said. "We'll get it done."

As McDonaugh searches for solutions, America's Capital Partners still waits for official acceptance of its donation.

"The city agreed to provide ACP with donation papers for the sculpture," attorney Jason Baruch wrote in a letter. "The city has not fulfilled this commitment."

As added pressure, the chicken letter was accompanied by another missive with a gentle reminder that the city has violated the terms of a lease agreement by, among other things, not properly fixing a parking garage adjacent to Rivergate Tower, destroying a directional sign to the garage, and failing to replace parking spaces lost during construction of the Tampa Museum of Art and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

"We hope that litigation will be unnecessary," Baruch wrote.

Allen de Olazarra, CEO of America's Capital Partners, said the matter of the lease agreement and the sculpture are clearly separate. But he would like both matters resolved.

And he'd like the donation papers for the sculpture.

"It would be handy to have the city send an acknowledgement saying, 'Yes, we've got the chicken.' " he said. "They came and picked it up. It's sitting on their property."

City Attorney Chip Fletcher disputes claims that the city has violated the terms of the lease agreement, and points out there was no signed agreement relating to the donation of the sculpture. "As far as I know, Bob (McDonaugh) did this more or less on a handshake," he said.

Regardless, city officials say they'll take the donation paperwork to City Council for approval as quickly as possible.

Robin Nigh, manager of the city's public art program, said questions about the rebuilding, repair and care of the sculpture have to be answered first. "I'm very cautious about taking it to council for acceptance," she said. "We want to make sure all of our ducks are in a row."

No bird pun intended, of course.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Problems with 'Exploding Chicken' sculpture come home to roost 07/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 12:31am]

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