PORTLAND – Three artists are in contention to design benches for Portland’s Bayside Trail, a project that could cost the city as much as $42,500.

The city’s Public Art Committee met Wednesday night to review each artist’s submission, but could not agree on a proposal to send to the City Council for final approval.

Committee members opted to seek public input in early September before finalizing their choice on Sept. 21. Their recommendation will be presented to the City Council.

“If you are going to bring the public into this you need to make it understandable, because they already have doubts about us,” said Ron Spinella, who served on the citizen panel that recommended the three finalists.

Spinella was referring to Tracing the Fore, the landscape sculpture that is scheduled to be removed from Boothby Square in the Old Port. The Public Art Committee selected the artist who designed the stainless steel sculpture.

Tracing the Fore drew criticism from residents and business owners who said it got overgrown with weeds and was too abstract to be considered art.

The Public Art Committee has been working for some time to commission “functional art” for seating along the Bayside Trail.

Proposals submitted in an initial round were ruled out, so more proposals were solicited. More than 100 artists responded. Three of them were paid $1,000 each to design their concepts.

The finalists’ proposals were presented to the Public Art Committee on Wednesday by its Bayside Seating Project Panel. The panel chose SkyeDesign from Washington, Aaron Stephan from Portland and Gary Haven Smith from Northwood, N.H.

SkyeDesign’s concept calls for two curved and undulating forms of wood slats, fastened to galvanized steel, on the Elm Street plaza near Trader Joe’s. SkyeDesign proposes a third bench — two-sided, folded and curved — at the rear of the Planet Dog building on Marginal Way.

Its project would eat up the entire $42,500 budget.

Stephan, who lives in the Bayside neighborhood, has proposed a cluster of reinforced concrete blocks that resembles a pile of packing crates — a reflection of the neighborhood’s industrial heritage. His piece would cost just over $13,000 and would be at the eastern end of Marginal Way.

“I really love it. It’s very playful and humorous,” said Alison Hildreth, a member of the Public Art Committee.

“What’s interesting about this piece is that it is more art than bench,” said Peggy Greenhut Golden.

“It’s a very sophisticated, complex art idea,” said Alice Spencer, who co-chairs the committee.

Smith has proposed a plaza of five carved granite benches facing Portland Harbor near the East End Beach trail’s connection with the Bayside Trail. He is asking for $22,000.

Alexander Jaergerman, the city’s planning division director, said the Public Art Committee could select SkyeDesign and use the $42,500 allotted for the project, or it could mix and match the finalists, paying any costs over $42,500 out of the Public Art Committee budget.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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