The vote by the Kalamazoo City Commission to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers from Bronson Park, early Tuesday morning, March 6th, after a marathon commission session, has been the source of controversy prior to, and now, since that vote. On Wednesday afternoon, the City released a statement from Mayor Bobby Hopewell and Commissioner Don Cooney.The statement acknowledges strong feelings from both sides on moving the Fountain of the Pioneers out of Bronson Park.

Here is their complete statement:

The Fountain of the Pioneers has been the center point of Bronson Park for nearly 80 years. It is the basis of fond memories, a painful reminder, an artistic achievement, a place to cool off, or a lesson in history, depending on who you ask. It has been a source of controversy for its entire existence, long before this City Commission and City Administration, and it would likely continue to be long after.

Early in the morning of March 6 the Kalamazoo City Commission made the difficult decision to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers from Bronson Park. We made this decision immediately following five hours of public comment at one of the longest City Commission meetings in memory, but this was just the latest installment of a discussion that has been going on for decades. We voted knowing that no matter what the outcome, many would be angry, disappointed or frustrated. Like many public issues, there was no simple or easy solution.

This vote was not to erase history, destroy art or deprive our community of a beloved feature of Bronson Park. It is important to remember and learn from our past, and there are places all over the world where we can reflect on the darker moments of human history. That is why we didn’t vote to destroy the fountain, but to preserve the artistic elements for display elsewhere. This vote recognizes that there is a place for this type of reflection, but one of our most public areas is not that place.

This vote also recognizes the past and outlook on this issue. After nearly 80 years, the controversy remains. With the originally planned investment of more than $1 million into the restoration of the Fountain of the Pioneers, do we want to be investing this amount of resources into this fountain? What does this say about our values as a community? What are we telling the many voices from our city that say this is inappropriate, hurtful and unwelcoming? The fountain may ultimately be removed anyway- it is the third fountain in Bronson Park. While this decision to remove the fountain is not without its own cost, it is expected to be approximately $200,000 and we are pursuing outside resources to offset these costs.

This vote will not immediately resolve all of the racial issues that we face in our City and our region, but it is a recognition that symbols matter. It is a step towards healing. It is consistent with the recently completed Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Strategic Vision and other efforts to promote racial equity such as the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation and Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo initiatives.  It is also consistent with our City Charter, which is enacted in part to “…to conserve and utilize public values for public benefit and to promote our common welfare…”

The City Commission is elected to represent all of Kalamazoo, a diverse city with diverse viewpoints. With 75,000 perspectives, we are not all going to agree on every decision. We made a difficult choice, but it was the best choice for our City as a whole.