City officials met with artist Jamie Lester and his business partner, Jeff Edwards, on Wednesday morning to view Lester's two designs for an iconic statue that will soon fill The Plaza, formerly known as The Hole. Now, the selection process has started.
The statue is referred to as both "Cardinal Ascending" and "Cardinal Rising," and features the rising of a cardinal. The bird becomes more abstract as it rises, to represent Beckley's continued transformation.
Lester designed it in two forms for Beckley. One is a diamond shape, which invites visitors to climb inside and pose for photos. The second design places the cardinal in a vertical form, which is easy to scale to miniature size for souvenirs. Both designs also fit two more goals of business owners and city officials — to brand the city and to draw visitors.
Both of the designs may be made into a statue that will rise 8 feet to 12 feet tall at The Plaza on Neville Street. City workers plan to build a pedestal and to install lighting once a design is selected.
Rappold said he, Jill Moorefield of Beckley Events, city treasurer Billie Trump, Board of Public Works Director Jerry Stump and city workers Walt Peplowski and Jim Rollins met with Lester, Edwards and downtown businessman Matt Bickey to view renderings on Wednesday.
"It was all so positive," Rappold said Wednesday, after the meeting. "I like the ones where the three cardinals are ascending, and they're all heading straight up.
"It delivers such a positive message. We're on the rise. I love that."
Lester and Edwards will send scaled, realistic renderings of how each would look on The Plaza.
Lester designed the bronze statue of Jerry West at the West Virginia University Coliseum in Morgantown, along with the statue of Don Knotts in Morgantown.
When the city began the time-consuming task two years ago of filling the infamous Hole — a burned-out, two-story lot on Neville Street that plagued three mayoral administrations and spawned a number of critical voices and satirical posts on social media — Rappold and Beckley Common Council wanted to place a piece of artwork there to define Beckley.
Downtown businessman Matt Bickey facilitated a meeting earlier this year between city officials and Lester, a native of Wyoming County and the son of Debbie Lester, a well-loved local artist.
Bickey is also a donor to The Plaza.
"I can't say enough about Matt Bickey bringing Jamie Lester to us," Rappold noted.
Meanwhile, city crews had filled "The Hole" with dirt in the summer and fall, inching it to street level. They had also performed other preparation work so The Plaza could be built.
The ground at the former Hole is solid and ready to host the city's unique statue, Rappold said.
Rappold had inherited The Hole and was under pressure from citizens and Council to fill the downtown canyon.
With "Cardinal Rising" set to adorn the former Hole, Rappold said he believes the city is making history and offering a gift to future generations.
"We were talking about branding the city, and this could be an important step toward that, a fact we're known for something so positive and maybe, even, inspirational," he said. "We're pretty excited.
"We'll light it at night from the ground up. Thank goodness, we have the ability right now to finance this, to get it done and, hopefully, make the citizens of Beckley proud."
He credited Bickey, Trump, comptroller Jessica Chandler, Stump and city workers for making The Plaza a reality.
Council members looked over the two designs Tuesday at a workshop. The mood turned briefly reverent.
Ward I Councilman Tom Sopher, a local historian who has a reputation as a conscientious steward of city finances, suggested that the city erect the 12-foot statue.
"If you're going to put one up, put up a big one," he said immediately, after seeing Lester's renderings.
"Bigger than Alfred?" treasurer Trump asked Sopher, referring to the statue of city founder Alfred Beckley in Jim Word Memorial Park.
"Bigger than Alfred," Sopher agreed. "Make it sizable."
"I was just wondering if Tom looked at the prices when he said '12 feet,'" teased Trump.
"I think if you're going to put something up, make an impression," Sopher replied.
Cost will likely be $80,000 to around $160,000.
"Once Council decides which one they prefer, we can squirrel the money back," said Trump.
The mayor seemed to support the purchase of the 12-foot statue but said later that either of the sizes will make an impression downtown.
"I think it's safe to say, at this point, that funds are not an issue," said Rappold. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime expenditure."
He added that city coffers are in much better shape than they were several years ago, enabling the city to tackle deferred projects such as the building of a new police station and a new #3 fire station.
"Right now, we're blessed," Rappold said.
Rappold said on Wednesday that he, Lester and Bickey expect newlyweds to pose for photos in front of the statue and that Beckley children will climb on it.
The next step is to choose the design and begin building the pedestal. Then, the city will commission construction of "Cardinal Rising."
Regarding which statue will be placed at The Plaza, Rappold said he will yield to Lester's expertise and suggestions. He said he believes that Council will likely rely on Lester's insights but that he did not want to speak for Council.
"I think Council will say, 'OK, that looks good to me,'" he said. "I don't know we need to send that to a vote.
"I don't want to preclude that as a possibility, if it offends any members of Council," Rappold added.
The mayor said that he expects "Cardinal Rising" to be at The Plaza by mid- to late summer — in plenty of time for Chili Night in October.