Birth of the New World
|La Estatua de Colón|
Birth of the New World, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, also known as "The Statue of Columbus."
|Location||Arecibo, Puerto Rico|
|Height||360 feet (110 m)|
|Completion date||Dedicated 2016|
The Birth of the New World (colloquially known as La Estatua de Colón, literally meaning "The Statue of Columbus") is a 360 foot (110 m) bronze sculpture located on the Atlantic coastline of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. When completed in 2016, it became the tallest sculpture in North America, surpassing Mexico's Guerrero Chimalli, which measures 200 feet (61 m) including its base.
Originally designed by Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli as a monument to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's first voyage Birth of the New World was constructed in 1991. The statue prominently depicts Columbus controlling an anachronistic depiction of a steering wheel, with a backdrop featuring the Niña, Pinta and Santa María traversing the Atlantic Ocean. Made of 2,750 bronze and steel pieces and weighting more than 600 tonnes (590 long tons; 660 short tons), the monument's 360 ft (110 m) height made it the tallest in the Western Hemisphere during the last decade of the 20th century, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty and the Monumento a la Paz (also known as Virgen de la Paz). Tsereteli offered Birth of the New World to the cities of Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York City and Columbus, Ohio, but none of those cities accepted it, considering it an eyesore due to its disproportionate features or because its size would affect their skylines. The statue gathered the derogatory nicknames of "Chris Kong" and "From Russia with Ugh" while searching for a base. This, combined with the magnitude of undertaking such a project kept the monument from finding a home for several years. Despite the hindrances, the monument was featured in a stamp. A smaller and modified version, named The Birth of a New Man and meant to be the European link of a two-part composition along with Birth of the New World, was adopted by Seville, Spain, and dedicated there in 1995.
Finding a home in Puerto Rico
In 1998, Edwin Rivera Sierra, mayor of the municipality of Cataño in Puerto Rico, decided to acquire the monument. Despite being donated by Tsereteli, the cost of importing the statue was 2.4 million dollars, all of which was taken from the public treasury with the approval of governor Pedro Rosselló. Rivera Sierra insisted that the municipal treasury would not lose a single cent on the project, and planned to erect the monument near the entrance of Cataño Bay. The unassembled pieces of the statue were relocated to an adjacent recreational park upon arriving on November 12, 1998. In its original plan, construction would have begun in 1999, with the dedication taking place in October 2000. However, the project caused immediate controversy; several homes would have to be destroyed to make way for it and the cost of its assembly was deemed excessive with only the statue's base being estimated to be worth around 150 million dollars. The Oficina del Contralor (Office of the Comptroller) opened an investigation into the transaction and found that the 1.6 million dollars in taxes that were due when the statue entered the port were not paid. The auditor also investigated the use of public funds to cover the travel expenses of Rivera Sierra when personally meeting Tseretelli in Russia.
The height of the monument raised concerns that it would interfere with air traffic to nearby Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Ultimately, the Puerto Rico Port Authority denied Cataño the permits required to advance, citing "security concerns". The central government decided to stop providing any funding for the project. The unassembled pieces remained stored near Cataño Bay for several years. Rivera Sierra's successor, Wilson Soto, declared that the municipality would not invest any public funds in the project. By this time, some of the pieces were beginning to show signs of rusting, and storing the pieces was costing $1.6 million in taxes per year, not including the salaries of several security guards. The municipality also lost an estimated income of $200,000 that the recreational park would have provided were it open to the public. The total cost of the project was re-estimated due to the necessity of replacing several parts and some of the supporting steel structures, fixing exposure damage and the additional need for a sandblasting procedure. In early 2005, Tseretelli began searching for developers that would take over the project. However, these efforts were interrupted by Soto, who considered that simply assembling the statue was not enough to attract tourism. He suggested that the entire area would need to be developed. The size of the project caused potential developers to lose interest.
On August 16, 2008, the municipality confirmed that Birth of a New World had been transferred to Holland Group Port Investment (HGPI), a private group that was involved in the development of the Mayagüez port. Soto justified the action by claiming that simply storing the pieces was costing the public treasury 4 million dollars, and that Cataño could not afford a project that would exceed $100 million. The private entity transferred the pieces to its facilities in Mayagüez, announcing its intention to assemble the statue near the coastline in time for the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games that were being held in that municipality. HGPI devised a plan to attract an estimated 500,000 tourists to with Birth of a New World as its cornerstone. A regional plan would include the establishment of a museum of history near the statue. The possibility of establishing a cruise route between Mayagüez and Seville was also explored. Once there, a Russian team examined the condition of the pieces and ensured that it could still be assembled.
Assembly in Arecibo
HGPI was unable to fulfill its plan in time, citing disinterest by the municipal government, and the statue was reassigned for a different project. Arecibo became a frontrunner, and Mayor Lemuel Soto began the permit process for a project that would combine the statue with other attractions, such as the Arecibo Observatory. However, the municipality faced competition; Representative David Bonilla Cortés requested that the statue be assembled on Desecheo Island and the newly elected mayor of Cataño, José Rosario, proposed using the statue as part of an eco park that would be constructed in the swampy region of Ciénaga las Cucharillas. San Juan also tentatively considered the project, but lost interest due to the condition of the pieces. Ultimately, Tseretelli decided that it was "too late" to consider other venues and settled for Arecibo. However, once there the monument faced more controversy, this time by activists that condemned Columbus' role in opening the door to the European genocide of indigenous peoples and by groups that opposed its impact in the maritime-terrestrial zone. Eventually, the Luis Fortuño administration began processing the respective permits.
In 2012, Rosario denounced the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury for imposing nearly 3 million dollars in retroactive taxes for the original transaction and unfinished projects related to it, resulting in an embargo of the municipality's income. In June 2012, the first pieces began arriving at Barrio Islote in Arecibo. Birth of the New World became the main attraction of a tourist project called Columbus Theme Park (later renamed Terravista ParkLand) developed by Pan American Grain, which the administration expected would produce 4.6 million dollars in income per year and recruit 900 new employees. The assembly investment was now estimated at 98 million, with only the reclassification of the zone preventing the project's advance. This process was completed by January 2013. On February 11, 2014, a contemporary-Taíno movement, named Movimiento Indígena Jíbaro Boricua, joined other anti-Columbus factions in protest the impending assembly of the monument.
The monument survived the passing of Cat. 4 hurricane Maria in September 2017 without structural damage. However, the adjacent infrastructure was heavily affected. The remodeling of the beach house (which is expected to host the visitor center), as well as the construction of new roads, parking and a plaza were all halted. Reforestation efforts in the area were completely reverted after the winds decimated the flora. These developments forced architect Roberto Alsina to delay the timetable and reconsider strategies, this while working to undo the damage to the area that would host the Terravista ParkLand.
Tsereteli et al v. González Freyre et al
On March 14, 2019, Tsereteli sued González Freyre, Pan American Grain and Columbus Park Corporation, claiming that previous agreements had not been fulfilled as the sculptor's corporation -Birth of New World LLC- had not been refunded an investment of $17 million (for transferring it between Mayagüez and Arecibo) or received ownership of the terrains. This conflict prevented plans from fully opening to the public and prompted the municipality to change dates for the formal inauguration on multiple occasions. Tsereteli was stated to be content with the visibility gained by the monument and unconcerned by the possibility of it remaining closed off for the time being.
During a year, beginning when a contract was signed in November 2013, both sides discussed the transfer of between 700 and 800 meters of the plot to an entity of the author's choosing. However, González Freyre claims that Tsereteli did not discuss the matter again until he issued a warning in late 2018, after more than a year of no communication, and that the Russian artist did not heed attempts to mediate. As of March 2019, the monument is virtually complete but the development of the Terravista ParkLand had yet to begin following the hurricane delays and is expected to take up to five years.
Prior to the inauguration, an economic study by consulting firm Estudios Técnicos, estimated that the statue would attract at least 300,000 tourists per year to the municipality, with additional income from taxes related to the project.
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