The city will unveil on Saturday morning an initial conceptual plan for the Maggie L. Walker memorial monument and plaza at a meeting at the Richmond Public Library from 10 a.m. to noon.
The initial plan does not include the 26-year-old live oak tree looming over the site bounded by Brook, Adams and Broad streets, says Ellyn Parker, the city’s public art coordinator. The decision to exclude the oak from the initial plans was made after several meetings with “neighborhood stakeholders,” Parker says.
“We needed direction,” she says. “It was hard for the artist and the design team to come up with multiple options just from a logistics standpoint. They recommended moving forward with the design without the tree.”
What will become of the tree has been the subject of much debate since late last fall.
The artist commissioned for the project, Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez, told attendees at a January meeting that his designs could work with or without the tree. In December, Mayor Dwight C. Jones signed a petition, along with more than 1,400 others, to “save” the tree.
Beth Glasser, a Jackson Ward resident who wants the tree to stay put, said she was disappointed that the initial iteration of the plaza presented to the public would not include the tree, especially after the city said it would present multiple options.
“It’s a very hushed way to do things,” Glasser says.
Parker cautioned that the concepts the city will present Saturday are not set in stone. The meeting is intended to gather more feedback. Any iteration of the plaza must be approved by both the public art commission and the urban design committee before the planning commission has the final say.
"It's really sad that this has been convoluted by this debate," Parker says. "It should be about Maggie Walker."
After the meeting, a rally is scheduled at noon at the future site of the plaza to protest the closing of a portion of Brook Road and the possible removal of the tree.