Merlene Davis: Isaac Murphy garden delayed, but organizers hope for completion in 2013

Herald-Leader columnistNovember 5, 2012 

Every time I pass the site of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, I wonder why nothing seems to be happening there. I thought the park was to have been built by now, complete with the winning concept for a public art piece.

Yet nothing is going on at the corner of Third Street and Midland Avenue.

The memorial ran into a couple of snags that appear to be giving way, said David Cozart, president of the memorial board.

The board had asked for bids for excavation and construction of the park, but those estimates came back higher than expected, he said. Apparently, the companies that bid on the project "thought it was bedrock under there," Cozart said. But tests determined that there is only dirt, which will decrease costs.

That and design modifications will lower costs when bids are requested again in the new year.

"We are still rolling," Cozart said. "We are fully funded and ready to come out with construction."

The memorial garden will be at one end of The Legacy Trail, which when completed will be a 12-mile paved walking and biking trail. So far, eight miles have been completed, from the Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue to the Kentucky Horse Park.

The city received a $2.7 million federal grant to complete the third phase of the Legacy Trail, from the memorial garden to Jefferson Street, which is scheduled for completion in 2013.

Keith Lovan, senior municipal engineer and Legacy Trail project manager, said construction of the memorial garden is awaiting state approval of the use of $300,000 of that. Approval is hoped for by January.

Then bids will be let, followed by construction in the spring. Even though the project has been frustratingly slow for everyone, "it is definitely on track," Lovan said.

Once construction is complete, art pieces will be installed at the garden.

Earlier this year, the board received proposals for five pieces of public art that would define the park. Artists from Lexington, Ohio, California and New York submitted scale models of art pieces that would invite visitors to explore Murphy's life and the lives of other less famous black jockeys.

The board, with public input, selected pieces by Neal and Tiffany Bociek of San Diego, and LaVon Williams of Lexington.

The Bocieks, a husband-and-wife team, created My Home Is a Horse and a Track, which features a silhouetted image of Murphy racing on a horse that intersects with another horse. Rising above the horses is a circular disc bearing Murphy's image that can spin 360 degrees. The piece is meant to show Murphy looking over his property and the nearby community, which once included the Kentucky Association Racetrack.

Williams created three pieces meant to cover the back and sides of a bench that would be in the park. One side would acknowledge Murphy's love for his wife, Lucy; another would be a tribute to Murphy as a jockey. The third would depict Murphy's unique riding style.

Because William's medium is wood, Cozart said, he will team with University of Kentucky associate art professor and sculptor Garry Bibbs, who works with metal, so the art piece would require less maintenance.

Until then, we will be warmed by a colorful tree that will be erected soon and lighted during a ceremony — complete with Christmas carols and free hot chocolate — at dusk on Nov. 26.

Thomas Tolliver, vice president of the memorial board, said the tree will feature ornaments made by children who attend the William Wells Brown Community Center. The ornaments will have an "East end motif," he said.

"We are real proud that the city has chosen the Isaac Murphy park as a site of one of the community Christmas trees," Tolliver said.

That's fine. But I'm looking forward to a completed memorial garden as well.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: Merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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