Capitol fence to go soon; Columbus statue to stay in storage

Signs for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement at the Capitol
Signs calling for racial justice are seen in front of the State Capitol building on Juneteenth, June 19 in St. Paul.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

Security fencing around Minnesota’s Capitol is on the verge of coming down, but the displaced statue of Christopher Columbus won’t be going back up anytime soon. 

Updates on timing around both were provided Thursday by Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and another official in Gov. Tim Walz’ administration.

Flanagan said a decision on whether to reinstall the Columbus statue outside the Capitol is at least six months away — probably longer.

She described the next steps as the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board voted to create two new advisory task forces, both aimed at increasing public engagement. The board currently lacks a process for determining whether statues can be legally removed.

“No decisions will be made with regards to the Columbus statue until we’ve gone through the work of both of those task forces,” she said. “They can make the recommendations, and then the CAAP Board will adopt the recommendations as we see fit and appropriate. And then a decision will be made in regards to the Columbus statue, but not before.”

The Columbus statue is in storage after being torn down by American Indian demonstrators in early June. Criminal damage to property charges are under consideration against at least three people involved, but none have been filed.

Republican lawmakers have pushed for the 10-foot monument to be restored to its pedestal as soon as possible. The timetable outlined Thursday means that won’t happen this calendar year.

A statue hangs in the air.
A statue of Christopher Columbus is lifted onto the back of a truck as people sing and celebrate at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on June 10.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Meanwhile, the chain-link fencing that has ringed the Capitol since the police killing of George Floyd in May and resulting protests could be in its final days.

“We anticipate that will be coming down in the very near future,” said Department of Administration Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis. “We don’t see a need for that to be ongoing at the Capitol.”

It went up in late May. Flanagan said she’s eager to see it go.

“When you have a fence around a building that is the house of the people, intentional or not, it sends a message to folks about their ability to participate,” she said.

Even when it is gone, there will still be precautions within the Capitol given the ongoing concerns over coronavirus. An exact date for the building to reopen hasn’t been given.

“I’m sure there will be social distancing and masking requirements and all of the normal protocols that we’d want to follow during this pandemic time,” Roberts-Davis said.

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