TJ Center: Don’t Blame Us

In Tuesday’s Daily Progress, a front-page story by John Yellig reported on a status update on the extension to the Downtown Mall that was presented to City Council the previous night. The update reported that the construction of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression‘s Free Speech Monument has delayed work on the amphitheater, the transit center, and the extension.

When the Thomas Jefferson Center’s Josh Wheeler read this in the paper, he was more than a little surprised. He did his own research, talking to city and construction officials, and found that they all agreed with him: the monument construction has nothing to do with construction delays. Wheeler has sent cvillenewsers a letter explaining the situation.

Although I have been involved with the First Amendment Monument project since its inception, I was nonetheless surprised that Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Progress singled out the monument as the reason for delays “on a bevy of improvements being made to the [east end of the downtown mall].” Not only was this the first time I had heard this claim, it was contrary to my understanding of the facts. In an effort to determine if construction of the monument indeed was the sole cause of any delays, I spoke with City officials and representatives of the construction company responsible for the pedestrian mall extension. Everyone I spoke with said it was incorrect to single out the First Amendment Monument as the sole cause, or even the primary cause, for delays in the project as a whole.

My concern is that people will mistakenly infer from the Daily Progress article that the First Amendment Monument is delaying not only the extension of the pedestrian mall, but also the renovation of the amphitheater. In fact, although the extension of the mall and the renovation of the amphitheater obviously complement one another, the two are actually separate projects undertaken by two different construction companies. R. E. Lee & Son is responsible for the pedestrian mall extension, not the amphitheater construction. The monument is but one element of the mall extension and will be located in the area of the extension furthest away from the amphitheater. Thus, the monument should not impact the amphitheater construction in any way. Moreover, R. E. Lee & Son remains committed to substantially completing the pedestrian mall extension by the end of July. Completion of the First Amendment Monument will follow in the Fall as planned, thanks to the hard work of R. E. Lee & Son, the City’s project managers, and the monument’s architects Pete O’Shea and Robert Winstead.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to provide your readers with further information on this issue.

Josh Wheeler
The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

12:50pm Update: Josh Wheeler points out to me that the problem here doesn’t lie with anybody in particular, but is really the result of a game of telephone. If the amphitheater is delayed, he surely wants to keep people from blaming the T.J. Center for unrelated construction delays. John Yellig, of the Progress, sent in the following explanatory note.

The June 1 report to City Council that I cite in my article states: “Additionally, work on the Free Speech Monument, by the Tho-mas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, has completely halted Mall Extension work at the west end of the project site.”

It continues: “The Free Speech Monument, while technically not a part of the East Mall Extension project, has, to date, caused all work on the first section of mall construction to slowdown (sic).”

Additionally, at the June 6 council meeting, there was discussion of the monument’s contribution to construction delays. Councilor Rob Schilling went so far as to say the monument “ground work to a halt,” and suggested that if need be, the T.J. Foundation should “work around us” to prevent construction delays, even if that meant tearing up what work has already been done on the monument.

The report cites weather and the discovery of four underground storage tanks as having contributed up to 3 weeks to the delay, which I should have mentioned in my story. These factors weren’t mentioned at the meeting however, thus my emphasis on the monument.

Nowhere in my article did I say the monument could delay the amphitheater’s construction. The first sentence, “Construction of the Free Speech Monument at the east end of the Downtown Mall has delayed work on a bevy of improvements being made to the area,” could be interpreted to mean that, given that “bevy” is a pretty broad term. However, the second sentence, I believe, clears up any sloppiness in the first: “According to a report presented to City Council on Monday, the monument, which will consist of a copy of the First Amendment, a community chalkboard and a podium, has slowed work on an extension of the pedestrian mall.”

I regret any confusion the article has created.

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