Design plans for a statue of Cleveland Browns alumnus Jim Brown will be kept a secret from the public until its unveiling, although City officials have been able to see it.
The statue will sit at the Browns’ stadium, on City-owned land leased by the team. It will also be funded by the Browns without taxpayer contribution, according to chief city planner Donn Angus – so, to a certain extent, it belongs to the team and it makes sense that they could unveil it how and whenever they like. A team spokesperson told me, “our intent is to unveil the statue for Jim and our fans during our regular season.”
However, though the statue is privately funded, it’s not detached from public interest and public process. Because the stadium sits on City-owned property – a privilege for which taxpayers are already paying millions – the statue had a few hoops to jump through before this big surprise unveiling. Official approvals were given by the local design committee covering Cleveland’s downtown area on March 31, and the next day the full Cleveland Planning Commission gave its thumbs up.
The CPC was careful to frame its approval as relating only to the statue placement, while the design of the statue itself was painstakingly kept under wraps. The meeting agenda item reads “Jim Brown Memorial Statue Base & Location.” The Plain Dealer sat in on this meeting and witnessed a panicky but successful attempt by the Browns to keep images of the statue out of the public record. Here is what was submitted instead…
On the committee level, however, approval was given for “final design development.” Obviously we can all pretty much imagine what the sculpture will look like based on the placeholder image above – unless artist David L. Deming decides to channel his inner Katharina Fritsch – but it’s hard to imagine how “final design” approval could reasonably be given if the design itself is obscured.
Director of Cleveland City Planning Freddy Collier has not responded to several messages from me requesting a conversation about this approval process. I also reached out to city planning staff associated with the design committee and have not received a response.
Angus does not sit on the design committee and said he was unable to answer specific questions about the process, but he did state that City officials have been working with the statue’s artist and have seen design plans. However, these interactions don’t seem to have occurred as part of the formal approval process and therefore wouldn’t open a door for public participation.
The unveiling is expected in mid-September, according to CPC documents.