Park Ridge aldermen on Monday rejected a pitch to erect a statue of acclaimed actor Harrison Ford in the town, citing the high cost of the project and Ford’s lukewarm relationship with the town.
Ford was born in Morton Grove and attended high school at Maine Township High School in Park Ridge, which is now known as Maine East, in the 1950s. He has publicly stated that high school was a difficult time for him. At a 2015 Star Wars-themed event in Park Ridge, onlookers told Pioneer Press/Chicago Tribune that Ford had been bullied while living in town to the point that other children drove daily up a hill in thorny bushes.
Omri Amrany, co-owner of Rotblatt Amrany, the art studio behind the pitch, said they would “do the communication, organize it and get permission” from Ford if the city signals it wants to proceed.
Rotblatt Amrany has created some of Chicagoland’s most iconic statues, including the statue of Michael Jordan at the United Center and depictions of Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks at Wrigley Field.
Park Ridge Mayor Marty Maloney asked Amrany if the studio had Ford’s permission to proceed with such a project, and asked if it would be necessary to obtain such approval before moving forward. He said he would feel uncomfortable going ahead with such a project because of Ford’s experience at Park Ridge.
“Based on some things I’ve heard just through Park Ridge lore about Harrison Ford and leaving Park Ridge, I just want to make sure he was comfortable with what we do if we take that step,” Maloney said.
Amrany told aldermen that installing a statue of Ford, who starred in the hit movies Star Wars and Indiana Jones among many other big hits, would boost civic pride and bring more tourism to Park Ridge.
“It has a huge fan base and it’s easy to imagine people from nearby communities stopping by to have their picture taken with a sculpture,” Amrany said.
Amrany also suggested that the Pickwick Theater could screen Ford’s films and that the city could hold events referencing his most famous images, such as a Star Wars-themed celebration of May 4 (Be With You).
City staff said the cost to install such a statue could range from $100,000 to $250,000, depending on how many props the city decides to add to the art.
“You’re in six figures no matter what,” said Community Planning and Preservation Director Drew Awsumb.
However, Awsumb added, the city could get funds from sources other than taxpayers’ money. The city’s money would only give the project more weight in the eyes of potential donors, he said.
Amrany argued that investing public money could be worth it in the long run for the city.
“Do you know how much the jelly bean costs in Chicago? he asked, referring to the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Maloney said no, but joked that if Amrany could promise him the same volume of publicity and visitors, he would be interested. Amrany said the Bean has cost $26 million so far.
But Ald. Gail Wilkening was not sold.
“A quarter of a million dollars, whatever we have to put into it, that’s a no for me,” she said.
Other aldermen felt the same about the price of the project and questioned its suitability as land sourced from outside Park Ridge.
Aldus. Harmony Harrington said continuing with a Rotblatt Amrany pitch that had no audience support felt like “putting the cart before the horse”.
“I know we were approached by a very reputable art studio with maybe a broader view than some of us of what this could be for our city,” she said. “But for me, I’d love to see projects like this come from scratch; it means the audience and others are truly invested in that desire.
Aldermen agreed they would do well to consider a more structured public art program and seek public input on possible statuary pieces in the future.