PORTLAND – The debate over the controversial landscape sculpture “Tracing the Fore” may have revolved around aesthetics, but its removal comes down to cold, hard cash.

The city is soliciting bids for taking away the stainless steel and grass sculpture in Boothby Square.

The design is supposed to evoke the Fore River, which once flowed near the Old Port square, but many business owners in the area said it more often looked like an overgrown, weed-infested concrete planter with steel spikes poking up through the ground.

In April, the city officially removed the piece, for which it paid $135,000 six years ago, from its art collection. Now it wants it removed from Boothby Square.

The winning bid will be selected on the basis of “whoever gives us the most money,” said Nicole Clegg, Portland’s spokeswoman.

The city last week issued its “request for proposals,” a 49-page document with details about bidding, the sculpture, architectural drawings and pictures of the piece.

Bidders have until July 13 to offer a price for the sculpture, which was created by artist Shauna Gillies-Smith.

Under city rules, Gillies-Smith has a right to match the winning bid and buy back the piece, but she has told the city she doesn’t intend to exercise that right.

However, according to a letter from her in the request for proposals, she would “likely” be available for a free two-hour phone consultation with the winning bidder if the piece is going to be installed as art. Gillies-Smith also wrote that she would probably be available for siting advice, grading and installation oversight at her normal hourly rate of $100 to $120 an hour.

Gillies-Smith has defended her piece against detractors, saying the grass was just getting established and the city should have exercised more patience and practiced more maintenance. She said it was close to achieving her vision, which included the tall grass moving in the wind and mimicking waves on the river.

The request for proposals almost makes one wonder why the city is getting rid of “Tracing the Fore.” It describes the sculpture as “steel waves . . . set on earthen swells planted with a particular grass cover that provides a changing and dynamic element that suggests the movement of wind and waves.”

However, the request for proposals goes on to explain, “the grass component challenged the city’s resources and abilities to create the desired landscape effect. In hindsight, a more selective seed specification (exclusively blue sheep fescue, for example) and more focused professional landscape care in the early years might have resulted in a more successful piece for the collection.”

The city said a “more spacious setting,” particularly near the water, would be best for the piece, but it isn’t putting any restrictions on its siting or use.

The winning bidder will have to bear the cost of removing the sculpture, putting loam in the large planter and adding grass seed, although the bid documents don’t specify blue sheep fescue or any particular type of grass seed.

City officials had previously estimated that removal and site restoration would cost about $9,000. There is no minimum bid, but a $10,000 performance guarantee is required to make sure the site is left the way the city wants it.

A winning bidder will have two weeks to remove the piece once the award is made, meaning “Tracing the Fore” will likely be gone by the end of July.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]