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As Arbor Park’s art is removed, the case to keep it goes to court

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The centerpiece of Arbor Park is taken to a storage area as city workers transport it through downtown Grand Forks. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 6
Mary Weaver surveys the deconstruction as she takes photos of the process Tuesday morning. Weaver has been one of the main proponents of preserving the park. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 6
Nicholas Legeros, the creator of the arbor sculpture, gives advice and direction to city workers on how to remove the piece of artwork from Arbor Park. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)4 / 6
City workers use large construction equipment to remove the centerpiece of Arbor Park Tuesday afternoon. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)5 / 6
City workers slowly remove the arbor sculpture from its foundation as the city prepares the park for development. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)6 / 6

The arched metal centerpiece at Arbor Park became the latest of its artwork carted away on Tuesday, leaving four short, metal poles and an empty space behind. But as crews prepared for construction on site, a lawsuit seeking to preserve the park saw its first hearing in Grand Forks District Court.

Both the lawsuit and the park’s transformation into a construction site will continue into Wednesday. Though the city’s attorney worked to have the case dismissed -- giving procedural reasons why it should not proceed -- District Judge Steven Marquart declined to immediately issue a ruling. A decision is expected as soon as Wednesday morning, and if the case continues, an evidentiary hearing is expected that afternoon.

“I think (the judge is) looking for the facts and looking for the issues,” said Henry Howe, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “This is his first exposure to this particular case -- he’s not from Grand Forks, which is probably a good thing.”

At issue is the June 20 election in which Grand Forks voters rejected a ballot proposal to preserve the park with the Park District, effectively blessing the city’s plan to sell the property to a developer for the construction of a condo building. A group of nearly two dozen voters have filed suit seeking to void the election, claiming the city overstepped its authority when it held all voting in one location at the Alerus Center and that two absentee ballots were wrongly disqualified.

During the hearing, the city’s attorney Ron Fischer turned to the gallery -- full of plaintiffs -- and said he knew how they felt. He’d worked hard in 1997 to convince the public to vote against a key measure supporting the Alerus Center, but to no avail.

"You have my sympathy,” Fischer said. “(But) elections have to be respected."

But proponents of the park have questioned the city’s removal of art while the lawsuit is pending, including Adam Kemp, an artist with close ties to the park.

Nicholas Legeros, the Minneapolis artist who created the arbor artwork, was in town Tuesday to help remove the piece from the park.

"It's a challenge to figure out a way to keep the character and quality of this experience in another location," Legeros said. "The people have spoken and if the democratic process holds out, you’ve got to do what you got to do."

Herald multimedia reporter Joshua Komer contributed to this report.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108