Donors withdraw support of Bronson Park after fountain relocation decision

Donors withdraw support of Bronson Park after fountain relocation decision

There's mixed reaction after a late-night decision to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers from Kalamazoo's Bronson Park.

The 5 to 1 city commission vote was finalized around 1:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The decision means the controversial monument and the two reflecting pools will be relocated from the park within a few months.

Kalamazoo City Manger Jim Ritemsa says removal will make Bronson Park more welcoming and promote the idea of racial healing and social acceptance within the community

"We felt it was time for Kalamazoo to make a stand around racism, and the time was now," Ritesma said.

Monday's vote also changes a $2.8 million master plan for Bronson Park, which included $1.25 million in repairs to repair the concrete fountain. Fundraising was put on hold last fall after the fountain debate reemerged.

"I think it's an ambiguous and subversive work of art that needs to be used as a teaching tool," Marcia Stucki, a co-chair for the 21st Century Bronson Campaign, said.

The 21st Century Bronson Campaign was launched in 2016 with a goal to raise money for the park. To date, $2.2 million has been raised, according to city leaders.

Ritsema says more than $500,000 in pledges have been directed specifically toward fountain repairs.

"We are going to reach out to donors specifically for the fountain and inform of their decision, and let them decide if they want their donation returned or if they want to donate it to the entire larger project," Ritesma said.

Stucki says her family's foundation, Stucki Family Foundation has pledged $35,000 to the 21st century Bronson Campaign since 2016. However, Stucki said she will withdraw her pledge after after Tuesday's vote to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers.

"I am absolutely done with the city of Kalamazoo. My family is done with any contributions to Kalamazoo," Stucki said.

Al Heilman, former Kalamazoo vice mayor and retired owner of Heilman's Nuts and Confections, said he is withdrawing his pledge to the Bronson Park campaign as well.

"I'm emotionally torn up over this," Heilman said over the phone from his Florida home.

Barb Miller served as a Kalamazoo City Commissioner from 2005 to 2015 and helped to launch Bronson Park's master plan in 2016. Miller expressed disappointment over the commission's decision.

"I think it's going to cause a lot of deep wounds on the part of people who wanted to keep it. I don't think they'll recover from it," Miller said.

Meanwhile, an online petition protesting the removal is circulating with more than 1,100 signatures, but commissioners are unlikely to change their minds.

The city plans to dismantle the fountain and keep it in storage.

"We are going work with area museums and museums across the country to see if they're interested in taking the work," Ritsema said.

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts has indicated the museum doesn't have enough space to take it, but KIA Executive Director Belinda Tate believes the artwork should kept within Kalamazoo.

"I think the work still has relevance to this community, so it's likely and best for the work to stay in this community." Tate said.

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