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City says Columbus statue will not return to City Hall as it invests millions to reimagine space

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The 20-foot-tall bronze statue of Christopher Columbus once towered over visitors to Columbus City Hall in the 15th century Italian explorer's largest namesake city. Now it sits in a storage room three years after being removed from its pedestal and likely won't return to its perch as the city reconsiders Columbus' legacy and controversial history.

The City of Columbus is investing $3.5 million, including $2 million in grant money to "re-contextualize" the statue to explain his legacy as it is understood today and uplift the stories of underrepresented residents. The project's website, Reimagining Columbus, states in its FAQ section that "the statue will not be reinstalled at City Hall; community engagement will influence the design and location of this new public space."

Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a Tuesday press release that the city is taking "the next step in rewriting our narrative."

"We take responsibility to tell the truth about colonialism and racism, and to tell the stories of the people who have been overlooked and erased from the telling of our history. I invite the entire community to join us in an inclusive discussion that will allow us to re-envision how we project ourselves to the world and create a symbolic landscape that more closely resembles our shared values and aspirations for our future,” Ginther said.

Columbus is celebrated as the first person to "discover" the Americas, but other European explorers made the voyage before him, and hundreds of Native American tribes had inhabited North and South America for centuries.

The Columbus statue was given to Columbus by its sister city of Genoa, Italy in 1955.

The project will take place from now until December 2024, per a timeline posted on the project's website. The city wants to engage residents, conduct research into colonial and contemporary history and leverage best practices in placemaking to assess the future disposition of the Columbus statue according to the news release.

The Mellon Foundation of New York City provided the grant funding for the project, and will help steward it through its Monuments Project with eight other cities. The project will be led by a team of historians, indigenous architects and designers, and diversity and inclusion advisors.

The news release said the project is also asking for feedback on other public art and city symbols, like the city seal and flag, can help communicate the city's values and aspirations for the future. The seal and the flag both feature one of Christopher Columbus' ships.

Columbus State Community College also took down its statue in 2020, but the Ohio Statehouse chose to keep its statue on Capital Square. Statues of Columbus were beheaded, toppled or plunged into bodies of water in Boston; St. Paul, Minnesota; Camden, New Jersey; and Richmond, Virginia, in a rebuke of his history as a colonizer and slave owner and his “discovery” of America.

Groups that oppose the statues cite Columbus as being complicit in the genocidal cleansing of the Americas and exploitation of Indigenous people. But many Italian-Americans argue the statues are works of art that strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Italy.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.